On Feb. 21, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a bill stripping approximately $1.3 million in funding from Ohio health department services, including HIV testing, breast and cervical cancer screenings and prevention of violence against women.
Access for birth control and other reproductive services for Kenyon females has been in part limited to the Cox Health and Counseling Center through the defunding of Planned Parenthood in this bill.
One of the largest anti-choice bills to be pushed through legislation in recent years, the bill comes as a devastating hit to Planned Parenthood. Media scrutiny fell upon the organization last summer after an anti-abortion group released videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the procurement of fetal tissue; allegations of fetal tissue sales have since been dismissed.
In Ohio, Attorney General Mike DeWine launched an investigation in the aftermath of the allegations that resulted in no evidence that Planned Parenthood has sold fetal tissue by December of 2015. Though the bill did not specifically name the nonprofit organization, Kasich’s signature has left Planned Parenthood floundering.
Since his election as governor in 2010, Kasich has signed all 17 pieces of legislature to cross his desk regarding anti-abortion and women’s reproductive health restrictions; the most recent bill comes as an attempt to fund clinics and centers that do not perform abortions. According to the Huffington Post, in 2013 Kasich supported a $1.4 million budget cut of Planned Parenthood that “required abortion providers to perform ultrasounds on patients seeking abortions and allowed rape crisis centers to be stripped of their public funds if they referred victims to abortion providers.”
Kasich’s legislative choices underscore larger matters plaguing Ohio — namely, a lack of resources for women’s reproductive healthcare. At present, 10 clinics offer abortion services in the state of Ohio, three of which are Planned Parenthoods; a Columbus-based clinic is the closest of the 10 to Kenyon’s campus.
For women at Kenyon, reproductive and gynecological health can be a tricky sea to navigate given limited healthcare resources and mobility on the isolated campus. This leaves the health center as one of the main, if not the only, viable options for care.
“Unfortunately, Mount Vernon is such a small county that they don’t have a lot of services,” Kim Cullers, director of the health center and certified nurse practitioner (CNP), said. At Knox Community Hospital, three obstetricians/gynecologists are listed as staff doctors. While the health center has a female doctor who works six and a half hours per week, and a male doctor as her substitute, it does not have a registered OB/GYN on staff. The health center employs two CNPs, one medical doctor and her substitute, and three registered nurses; Cullers said the health center is “really well staffed.”
A female junior, who asked to speak anonymously in order to preserve her privacy, explored the health center as a means for procuring her birth control prescription, but due to the center’s lack of a gynecologist she turned down the necessary physical, colloquially referred to by Cullers as a “well woman exam,” and opted to ship her birth control in from her home state.
The junior opted out of a “well woman exam” due to the health center’s lack of a gynecologist, noting she wanted a professional who specializes in reproductive healthcare. Her hesitation to accept the exam left her with few options, and a nurse suggested she go into Mount Vernon for a gynecological visit. “But I couldn’t do that because I’m technically not insured in Ohio,” the junior said. Insured in her home state through Medicaid, the junior has struggled to fill prescriptions at Mount Vernon pharmacies.
“There was a time when my only option was to get it from the health center,” the junior said of her birth control prescription. “I can’t get my birth control at Planned Parenthood anymore. I literally have to pay at Kenyon if I want birth control.”
When asked if there was a male equivalent to the well woman, general and reproductive health precautions, Cullers laughed and said, “We have a jar of condoms out front that’s always full.” Cullers said she has “maybe one or two” male students come in each year to check on their sexual and reproductive health as a proactive measure. “I’ve had a few men come in for yearly exams,” Cullers said. “And it always surprises me.”
More than just contraceptives, the health center’s resources stretch to diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among other reproductive services. A female senior, whom a health center doctor diagnosed with herpes her sophomore year, suspected her diagnosis and expressed that concern to a nurse during her preliminary exam.
“A nurse looked at me and she wasn’t sure if it was razor burn or herpes,” the senior said. “I remember her saying, ‘Can I convince you to stop shaving?’ She recalls leaving the health center without any painkillers and waiting nearly five days for the result of her swab test.
“[The doctor] came in after a long time, maybe 25 minutes after I’d seen the nurse and said, ‘Tell me what you think has been going on,’” the senior said. She relayed several sexual experiences to the doctor, which she believed resulted in her contraction of the STI, after which the doctor replied, “Well you’re right, you do,” according to the senior’s recollection. The doctor went on to tell the senior that if she had any more questions to “just Google it.”
“I think that really speaks for itself,” the senior said. “I had herpes, which is such a taboo thing to talk about. His advice was exactly what everyone else had been telling me not do before I went in.” She expressed surprise that the doctor had told her to research herpes online when friends she had spoken to before her diagnosis, warning her against online research of potential STIs.
“I don’t know what the point of me telling my story was, or what he was even asking of me,” the senior said. “The whole thing was a little bit unprofessional. It was just professional enough to get away with.”
A second female senior, who asked to speak anonymously to preserve her privacy, called herself a “regular” at the health center. She has human papillomavirus (HPV), and was diagnosed in her home state, but recently visited the health center this semester for what she thought was a potential yeast infection.
“I didn’t know what it was because I had never had it before and it got worse [over time],” she said. “I went to the health center … and they said this could be herpes. I got really, really scared.”
A nurse did a herpes swab, which is more accurate than a blood test during an outbreak. Three days later she returned to the health center and saw Cullers, who immediately ruled out herpes upon inspection before the test results had come back.
“It was extremely frustrating,” she said of the potential misdiagnosis and the wait time. After the potential herpes incident, she attempted to secure an excused absence from class on a day in which her menstrual cramps were so severe she was exhibiting flu-like symptoms and was unable to leave the bathroom for part of the day. The health center staff denied her request, and she was left wondering whether the mention of her menstrual cycle as part of her symptoms was a part of the reasoning for the health center’s decision not to grant her an excused absence.
Kenyon’s health center operates at limited hours compared to those at peer schools such as Oberlin College, which boasts Saturday walk-in hours; despite limitations in services and hours, several have noted positive experiences with the staff have made up for their unfortunate experiences. “She was very sensitive to the fact that I technically don’t have insurance in the state of Ohio,” the junior said of Karen Crane, CNP. “[She] was good about giving me options so I could get the care I needed.”
The junior’s trust in the health center contrasted with that of the first senior, who said, “I try to avoid the health center now. If I ever had a problem like that I would definitely call my gynecologist at home. I wouldn’t go back [to the health center].”
Kenyon’s relative isolation is a large factor in the lack of on-campus reproductive and gynecological resources for female students. Cullers noted that Mount Vernon is a conservative area and most women would find more resources if they expanded their search to Columbus. The second senior attempted to get an appointment at a gynecologist’s office in Columbus before going to Kenyon’s center, but a three-week wait swayed her decision to go to the health center. The junior, due to her insurance, was unable to access resources for an affordable price anywhere in Ohio other than the health center due to the defunding of Planned Parenthood services.