The Harvard College Democrats published an open letter to Harvard University Health Services on Sunday asking for increased abortion access for students.
HUHS does cover obstetrics and gynecology services for students who opt into the Student Health Insurance Plan, which costs over $4,000 per year. But many students choose to waive SHIP and only pay the $1,300 Student Health Fee, which does not cover gynecological services.
As of Wednesday evening, the letter has been signed by 17 student organizations, including the Harvard Pre-Medical Society, Tech for Social Good, and Our Harvard Can Do Better, an anti-sexual assault advocacy group.
Eleanor M. Powell ’25, the events director for the College Democrats, said the letter asks the University cover the cost of abortion services to ease any potential financial barriers for students while not raising the Student Health Fee.
“It feels particularly flagrant that the Student Health Fee does include dermatology, gastroenterology, neurology, orthopedics, podiatry, physical therapy, surgery consults, X-ray, ophthalmology, optometry, allergy, and asthma services, but then doesn't include gynecology,” Powell said. “Gynecology is actually one of the only specialty services that is not included by the student health fee.”
Harvard spokesperson Tiffanie A. Green said HUHS received the letter, but declined to comment.
The College Democrats held a town hall in the Science Center on Wednesday to discuss the letter and current reproductive health offerings at HUHS. The town hall began with a reading of the letter before the floor was opened for questions and comments. Roughly 25 students attended the meeting.
According to Co-President of the College Democrats Luke D. M. Albert ’22-’23, the idea for the letter came up at a Board meeting after the Supreme Court held in June that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion and reversed the landmark Roe v. Wade case.
Albert’s co-president, Isaac A. Robinson ’23, said the drafting process took place over the course of several weeks.
“We wanted to make sure that everyone was on board, everyone knew what we were asking for, and also that we had our information correct,” Robinson said.
Our Harvard Can Do Better organizer William M. Sutton ’23 said while his organization has a slightly different focus, he fully supports the demands in the letter.
“We were sort of trusting in the Dems to know that this was a thing that was an actionable demand that they could organize behind,” Sutton said. “I think our priorities lie in different projects, but we want to support them as best we can.”
Shruti Gautam ’25 — current vice president of the Harvard Chapter of the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition, a signatory on the letter — said in addition to easing the financial burden, covering the cost of abortion would send an important signal to Harvard affiliates.
“The fact that it's included means it's endorsed, and endorsed doesn't mean you're promoting it, it just means that you are going to be supported through that process, and there's someone here that believes that you should have that process,” Gautam said.
Chioma S. Ugochukwu ’23, the former president of Harvard MME, said that while it may take a while, she believes that other schools would be inspired to adopt similar policies if Harvard expands its coverage.
“I definitely think it's going to be a process, and I'm kind of expecting that we simply will make waves to start,” Ugochukwu said. “We've seen in the past that what Harvard does, what happens at Harvard, definitely affects other school systems.”
“I'm definitely expecting some sort of ripple effect,” she added.
—Staff writer Vivian Zhao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org