I don’t expect pork chops at a Jewish barbecue. I also never expected pork chops in my law school cafeteria. What does that have to do with my access to health care? It’s a long story…
I decided to go to law school just months after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Scared, in pain, and facing a possible progression of my condition, I realized if I was going to go to law school, I had to go now. I started to research law schools and quickly realized something — I didn’t really have a choice of schools.
The fibromyalgia diagnosis meant I couldn’t give up my health insurance — student insurance may not have covered my needs. Keeping my health insurance meant I couldn’t give up my job. Luckily, I lived in a metropolitan area with four top tier law schools offering part-time programs. Great! Except two of the schools were too far from work for me to make it on time for classes. So that leaves two options.
At this point, it’s November 2003. I don’t have time to study for the December LSAT exam, so I register for the February exam and plan to apply for the 2004-05 school year. Great! Except one of the two remaining schools won’t accept the February exam for this application cycle. I could wait a year, but when you’re terrified that you might wake up one day with so much pain that you will have to file for disability, a year is a very long time. So I apply to the remaining option.
I can’t be the only woman who didn’t have a choice of school. Many women are limited to the school that offers her a robust financial aid package. Some women are limited to the school that is accessible to public transportation. Lots of women are limited to the school that has day care on campus.
For me, the remaining option happened to be an incredible school — especially for somebody who wants to advocate for social justice. It also happens to be the country’s oldest Catholic university.
I apply. I get accepted. I start my program at Georgetown.
As I already said, I went part-time because I couldn’t take the chance the student health insurance would cover my health needs. This meant I didn’t have a problem when my doctor recommended I try a birth control pill to reduce pain that was so intense that I often had to miss work. But I had classmates that had to jump through hoops to show they needed the medication for medical reasons other than birth control. I also had classmates who paid out of pocket for contraception.
Now it’s March 2008. I’m in my final year of law school and I get engaged. We get married the next year. People start asking about when we will start a family. They don’t realize the hard question I had to ask myself: what would happen if I became pregnant?
There is no clear answer. But there are some very scary possibilities. My condition could be worsened with increased pain and fatigue. Even worse, I could make my child sick. Studies have found genetic factors may play a role in the development of fibromyalgia. I have also discovered my fibromyalgia symptoms were caused by Lyme disease. For every study I read that says Lyme can’t be passed through pregnancy, I read another that says it can. I can’t become pregnant if I know there is a chance that I will make my child sick. I just can’t.
There are some who are trying to make it seem that those supporting contraceptive coverage treat pregnancy like a disease. I don’t think pregnancy is a disease. But complications related to pregnancy are very real to me.
There are still many options for me to start a family. But pregnancy doesn’t seem to be one of those options. For me and other women like me — no matter who our employer is or where we go to school — the Affordable Care Act gives us the right to health care.
So, what do pork chops have to do with all of this?
Michael Galligan-Stierle, the president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, responded to the recent announcement that religious schools would not be exempted from providing contraceptive coverage with no cost sharing on their student health plans by saying, “No one would go to a Jewish barbecue and expect pork chops to be served.” I still don’t really understand what that has to do with contraception. So I did a little research and found some statistics. Eighty percent of Jewish Americans don’t keep kosher. Ninety-eight percent of sexually active Catholic women use contraception. They still don’t seem comparable to me.