“It All Adds Up”: MSUM CFO hosts Gender Justice and more for co-pay free birth control discussion

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By: Geneva Nodland, nodlandge@mnstate.edu

In the back of the CMU on Tuesday evening, multiple representatives from various FM area organizations and a guest from St. Paul sat to talk with students and anyone else in attendance about co-pay free birth control.

The Campus Feminist Organization (CFO) and the Women’s Center hosted “It All Adds Up”, a presentation and discussion on various issues, including keeping co-pay free birth control an option. They invited Planned Parenthood, the Red River Women’s Clinic, Minnesotans for TRUST RESPECT ACCESS and Gender Justice. Each organization had one or two representatives attending, leading discussions and answering questions.

The main speaker, Megan Peterson, came from Gender Justice, a non-profit organization that’s based out of St Paul, Minnesota. Peterson, who is also the executive director of Gender Justice, said most of their work is based out of Minnesota, but they also take on clients in North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa.

Nora Bartel, the president of CFO, sparked the partnership with Gender Justice to put on the event. Bartel is a sophomore studying psychology and women and gender studies and has been working with CFO and the Women’s Center since her freshman year.

She connected with Gender Justice through her mother, who had previously interviewed Peterson for the event in a different location and thought the two should set something up. Bartel said she absolutely wanted to do something together.

Peterson explained that Gender Justice works with policy, advocacy, public education and engagement.

“We work across gender issues, so things that people think of as traditional women’s rights issues are very much in our wheel house,” Peterson said. “We also do a lot of work around LGBTQ rights in health care, education and employment. Anywhere where people are experiencing discrimination because they’re not conforming to expectations based on their sex or gender.”

This particular event’s focus was the issue of co-pay free birth control. Bartel defended the importance of the concern and talked about different barriers people face. She addressed matters of voting and supporting the community to ensure access to birth control.

Peterson said Gender Justice sees access to reproductive healthcare as an issue connected to views some may have on women.

“Opposition to people being on birth control or having abortions is about this idea that women are supposed to reproduce, that that’s our job in the world – to have babies, and any interruption to that is going counter to our gender,” Peterson said.

After an introduction, Peterson and others from local organizations gave a short message on the importance of the matter, then split the audience into two smaller groups. From there on different members of different organizations led discussions within the intimate groups.

A few discussion-starting questions caused slight discomfort for some, while others found comfort in being in a safe space and able to address such topics.

Bartel thinks the possibility of discomfort is another reason they should be having events like this. She says it is sometimes “weird” for her to think there is still taboo around certain subjects, as she is very used to it with her experience as a sex educator.

“It takes me a minute to remember that that is still a factor for some people,” Bartel said. “Some people don’t go around saying penis and vagina, and that’s just normal to me.”

Another uncommon topic of discussion is pregnancy prevention. Bartel mentioned this because it is a frequent reason for using birth control.

“I think definitely pregnancy prevention on college campuses needs to be talked about, whether or not parents want it to. Their kids are going to have sex, and the best way for their kids to have sex is to have safe, consensual, protected sex,” Bartel said. “Having these discussions with each other is the only way that people are going to get medically accurate information and get the support they need to be safe and to be having consensual relationships.”

Bartel isn’t alone in pushing knowledge and correct practice in prevention.

“We’re really excited to be on campus because the connection is so clear,” Peterson said. “Unintended pregnancy can derail a college education and derailing a college education can have life-long consequences.”

This was Gender Justice’s first campus-based event, but they have taken this campaign to other places in Minnesota. Peterson explained that the campaign’s focus, in partnership with the national “Keep Birth Control Free” effort, is letting people who may be used to this “benefit” of accessible and co-pay free birth control know that it wasn’t always there and could be taken away.

“We want people to know it’s under attack,” Peterson said. “We want them to know how important it is to share their stories and what it means to have access to free and low-cost birth control.

Peterson and the group also want to raise awareness with other issues at the federal level that they believe could threaten access.

“Cuts to the Title X program, Kavanaugh as a supreme court nominee, we see all these things as connected as being about wanting to limit the scope of women’s involvement in the public sphere,” she continued. “Through taking away the ability to chart their (women’s) own lives and their own course through limiting their reproductive freedom.”

After about an hour of exchanging stories, glances and emotions the evening came to end. Bartel shared what she hoped people in attendance would have on their minds upon leaving the event.

“Some people can’t just walk into the doctor’s office and get a prescription; some people don’t even have access to get to Planned Parenthood. There’s simple barriers like transportation or cost,” Bartel said. “I really want people to walk away with a better understanding of how to support their neighbors and support their community even with something as simple as getting birth control.”

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