WASHINGTON -- The Georgetown University law student who one week ago wasn't permitted to speak at a Congressional hearing on whether President Obama's birth control mandate violates religious liberties spoke here Wednesday night at a gathering of the American Association of University Women. In an interview before the pro-choice panel event, Sandra Fluke lamented that the student voice has been largely absent from a national debate that has tempers flaring over whether Roman Catholic and other religious institutions should be required to cover contraception in their insurance policies, including student health plans. "I think that unfortunately, some folks assume that young people's reproductive health is less important or less of a priority than other adults'," said Fluke, who chose Georgetown despite its policy, she said, because she didn't want to forgo a quality education and the other values she shares with the university. "Students have been invisible in this." About 2,000 colleges offer student health plans, and estimates of how many students are enrolled in them range from 1.1 million to 4.5 million. (The health care overhaul's effect on such plans has been controversial for other reasons as well.)
Students are also marginalized, Fluke said, because of their often precarious personal financial situations and a campus political structure that allows administrators to brush them off easily. "They know that each one of us is there for three years and they can outlast us," said Fluke, who has been lobbying her administration on this and other women's health coverage issues for as many years. "[Students] need to know that this kind of treatment on college campuses is not acceptable and they should come out fighting." Even though students are active on the issue on campuses across the country and are paying great attention to the dialogue at the federal level, she said, they're not yet organized enough to connect and advocate nationally. Panelists said students should write letters to editors and continue using social media to put pressure on legislators, particularly by posting their local representatives' contact information.