Student group demands University of Iowa ensure access to abortion, contraception, gender-affirming care and parental leave

COGS Press and Publicity Chair Caleb Klipowicz hands out “Vote for Reproductive Freedom” and “Vote for Trans Rights” posters at the Student Action for Abortion Rights, on Thursday Oct. 6, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

On Thursday, graduate students and undergrads at the University of Iowa joined more than 60 universities and high schools across 29 states for The Day of Student Action for Reproductive Justice, a student-led protest urging governments and educational institutions to ensure access to abortion, contraception, sex education and gender-affirming healthcare.

The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS, UE Local 896 ) and the UI Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) chapter organized the event in cooperation with Graduate Student Action Network (GSAN). While other schools held walkouts, rallies and marches, COGS decided to hold a resource fair at Hubbard Park to help connect people to local organizations.

“We’re hoping for this event to be sort of like a kickoff to a larger campaign around reproductive rights, especially for graduate student workers,” said COGS President Hannah Zadeh.

The resource fair had representatives from the Student Advocates for Planned Parenthood, Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP), Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP), Monsoon Asians and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity and Corridor Community Action Network (CCAN).

Day of Action attendees stop at the Student Advocates for Planned Parenthood table. – Adria Carpenter/Little Village

COGS has published a list of demands, calling for the Iowa Board of Regents and UI President Barbara Wilson to protect access to contraception, abortion and medical privacy for students and workers, as well as providing support for trans students, employees and parents. The demands include:

  • Provide free Plan B and home pregnancy tests at multiple campus locations for all students, faculty, and staff so they can test regularly at home and detect pregnancies as early as possible.
  • Pledge to provide travel support for abortion if and when abortion becomes illegal in Iowa.
  • Explicitly prohibit requests from instructors and supervisors for a doctor’s note, funeral notice, or other proof of justification in order for an absence from work or class to be excused.
  • Use gender-neutral language in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) policy (e.g., change “birth mother” to “pregnant employee” or “employee who has given birth”).
  • Require gender-inclusive restrooms in ALL campus buildings.
  • Eliminate disqualifying criteria for childcare subsidies based on income and SSN.
  • Provide 6 weeks guaranteed paid parental leave for all employees welcoming new children into their home.
  • Provide 12 weeks guaranteed paid parental leave for employees who give birth. Allow employees to supplement this leave with FMLA.
  • Commit to protecting the rights of students and employees while actively fighting for federal and state legislation to protect these rights.
Lina-Maria Murillo, an assistant professor in the gender, women’s and sexuality studies, history, and Latina/o/x studies, speaks at the event. Murillo said that attacks on reproductive freedom undermine democracy. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

While the university does offer some reproductive healthcare, COGS hopes they will bolster options for students and workers.

“There are definitely places on campus where students can get free condoms,” said Flannery Currin, the COGS political action chair. “But in terms of like emergency contraception, that’s a little harder to access.”

The university provides free condoms at the Student Health Clinic, the Wellness Services Suite and the Women’s Resource Action Center. UI students can also schedule appointments for other forms of contraception, like IUDs and birth control pills, and for STI testing and HIV prevention, at the Student Health Clinic.

But workers who do not have health insurance through the university have to access off-campus resources like Planned Parenthood and the Emma Goldman Clinic for sexual and reproductive healthcare.

COGS will wait until after its delivers its demands to the Regents and UI leadership in November to plan any further action. Zadeh anticipates a lukewarm reception for reproductive access, but thinks other demands are uncontroversial, like better support for students and parents.

“From the university’s response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, they are really looking to take sort of a neutral stance on these issues,” they said. “I’m sort of expecting that that’s the approach they’re going to be taking in the future, unless we put pressure on them.”

People at the Student Advocates for Planned Parenthood table listen to Lina-Maria Murillo. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Mica Doolan, host of the Repros for Iowa podcast and Emma Goldman Clinic board member, could no longer stay silent after the passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act. Doolan, who could not attend the Day of Action but asked Zadeh to read their statement aloud, has become a national storyteller for Planned Parenthood after talking about their three previous abortions.

“I was worried about what people would think of me. It was ingrained in me that abortion was evil and that I should keep my abortions secret. Finally, because of the Texas abortion ban SB 8, I could no longer remain silent,” they said.

“It’s OK to talk about abortion, and it’s OK to need an abortion. The more we talk about it, the less stigmatized someone else might feel. We need to drown out the politicians telling us what we can or cannot do with our stories,” Doolan continued. “We must make them hear what we’ve been through. And if they won’t listen, we’ll say it louder: I had an abortion!”

Doolan encourages people to support organizations like the Emma Goldman Clinic and Iowa Abortion Access Fund.

Attendees sign up at the COGS table. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

COGS’s demands also include parental support. In June, COGS protested at a Regents’ meeting for a cost-of-living raise of 6 to 7 percent, instead of the 1.3 percent the university proposed, and to offer paid parental leave for workers.

Under current guidelines, graduate workers could receive between 10 to 20 days of parental leave, depending on their type of employment. Graduate workers with an academic year or semester appointment have five days of paid leave per semester, and those with a fiscal year appointment have 15 days. Academic year employees have 13.5 paid sick days, fiscal year employees have 18 days. Employees may use up to five days of their allotted sick leave for parental leave, including birth and adoption.

Zadeh argued that the current salary cannot support a family. The current minimum salary for academic year graduate employees is $20,302, and the poverty guidelines for two-person household, like a single parent with one child, is $18,310, according to Department of Health and Human Services. For a single parent with two children, the guidelines are $23,030.

“That’s not enough to raise a child on and if you don’t have another source of income, you are going to struggle,” they said.

UI and the Regents increased the proposed raise to 2 percent instead of 1.3 percent but did not release any response to COGS about paid parental leave.

A “Vote for Trans Rights” sign at the COGS table. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

While the Day of Action’s central messaging focused on reproductive justice, its vision of bodily autonomy also included the rights for Iowans to access transgender healthcare, including hormone replace therapy (HRT), gender-affirming surgeries and other needs.

Some states, notably Alabama, have used the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision to argue for statewide bans on gender-affirming healthcare for transgender adolescents, Currin said.

“When you’re looking at the umbrella term ‘reproductive justice,’ it speaks pretty comprehensively to not just the right to decide whether to become a parent,” she said. “Trans rights is part of that reproductive justice work.”

UI insurance includes access to HRT, mental health services and surgeries. Students and workers can make an appointment at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ LGBTQ Clinic to begin, or continue, medically transitioning.

“The insurance plan does have coverage for gender-affirming care, but it’s still difficult to get logistically,” Zedah said.

Trans@Iowa and the Trans Inclusivity Coalition have online resources to help students apply for gender inclusive housing on campus; update legal name, preferred name and pronouns in UI systems; update sex and gender identity in MyUI; change their UI email address; find a gender neutral restroom on campus; and more.

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