CULTURE DIGEST: Brown Univ. to cover students' sex changes
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Starting in August, Brown University's student health insurance plan will cover sex change operations for students who want to change genders.
"We identified this as an important benefit for students to have access to," Jeanne Hebert, director of the university's insurance services, told The Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper.
Insurance companies typically consider such surgeries cosmetic and exclude them from coverage. The total package of "sexual reassignment surgeries," hormone therapy and related services, the newspaper said Feb. 6, can cost up to $50,000 per person.
"I know people where it's taken them 10 years because they needed to save money," Kelly Garrett, Brown's LGBTQ Center coordinator, said of people lacking such coverage who change genders over a period of several years.
Noah Lupica, a freshman at Brown, told The Daily Herald the fact that the university now will offer sex change operations "is life-saving."
"Cisgendered people, ordinarily most people, don't even think about how limiting it can be to not feel comfortable in their own skin," Lupica said. The newspaper said the term cisgender refers to people who identify with the gender associated with their biological sex.
Garrett said the insurance policy changes are part of a broader effort to keep transgender students from being discriminated against at Brown University.
In addition, they are training people in health services and psychological services to be sensitive to transgender students, and the LGBTQ Center is compiling lists of gender-neutral restrooms on campus and advocating for gender-neutral housing options for students, Garrett said.
The student newspaper reported that Cornell University, Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania offer coverage for at least some sex reassignment surgeries.
Brandon Gill, a student at Dartmouth College, wrote an opinion piece for his school newspaper entitled "One More Reason We Don't Go to Brown." Gill highlighted the fact that "Brown students will now be required to pay for the sexual reassignment surgeries of their peers."
"The justification for this policy, according to Garrett, is to stop discrimination against transgender people," Gill wrote. "... Why stop with gender reassignment surgery, though? Many people (yes, even Brown students) find obesity unattractive, and good-looking people tend to earn higher salaries than those who are not as aesthetically gifted.
"If Brown REALLY wants to stop discrimination and promote fairness and inclusiveness, its medical insurance should also cover all forms of beauty enhancing plastic surgeries ...," Gill wrote. "Only then can Brown University truly claim to be inclusive, nondiscriminatory and politically correct.
"Of course, this logic is absurd," the student continued. "The point is that the road to political correctness and toleration will never reach its conclusion, no matter what ridiculous policy the liberal establishment wants to enforce. The victims of this ill-guided decision are the Brown students who are morally, religiously or otherwise opposed to paying for the sex change surgeries of their classmates."
OHIO SCHOOL BOARD DEFENDS JESUS PORTRAIT -- A Jackson, Ohio, school district has voted to keep a portrait of Jesus hanging in the entranceway of a public middle school, refusing to bow to legal opposition to have the picture removed.
On the advice of attorneys from the nonprofit Liberty Institute and the Covington & Burling law firm, the board of Jackson City Schools defended the portrait Feb. 12 as part of a "limited public forum," whereby student groups may hang portraits representing their organization.
The portrait, which has hung since 1947 at Jackson Middle School, is the property of the Christian-based service group, the Hi-Y club, whose name is inscribed on the portrait's frame, the school board said.
"We're in a predicament where we have to balance things," Superintendent Phil Howard said, according to the Huffington Post. "We can't make that kind of endorsement [of religion] as a government entity. But we also can't infringe upon the rights of our student groups and our students."
The board faces a lawsuit filed by a Jackson Middle School parent, identified as "Sam Doe," and joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, asking the court to force the school to remove the portrait and abstain from hanging similar artwork there.
"The maintenance and display of the portrait has the effect of advancing and endorsing one religion, improperly entangling the State in religious affairs, and violating the personal consciences of plaintiffs," the lawsuit says.
Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute's director of litigation, said plaintiffs acted prematurely in filing the suit.
"We reached out to the ACLU and FFRF for dates they would be available to meet, so that we could include their input in the investigation before we made a final report and recommendation to the Board," Sasser said, according to a Liberty Institute news release. "Rather than responding to our request to meet with them, the ACLU and FFRF filed a lawsuit before they even knew what action the Board intended to take."
ACLU spokesman Nick Worner said after the meeting he was still convinced the placement of the portrait is unconstitutional.
"Our position on this is clear: we believe the portrait is unconstitutional sponsorship of religion and should be removed," Worner said after the board's decision, according to the Huffington Post.
WOMAN DIES AFTER LATE-TERM ABORTION -- A 29-year-old New York woman died Feb. 7 reportedly after undergoing a third-trimester procedure performed by a controversial abortion doctor.
Jennifer Morbelli of New Rochelle, N.Y., died at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Md., days after beginning the lengthy abortion method at a clinic in Germantown, Md., according to reports. Her unborn daughter, already named Madison Leigh, reportedly was 33 weeks into gestation when she died.
Pro-life blogger Jill Stanek first identified Morbelli, an elementary school teacher, and her daughter Feb. 10. The Journal News, a newspaper that covers New York's lower Hudson Valley, later confirmed the identities.
LeRoy Carhart, reportedly one of only four third-trimester abortion doctors in the United States, performed the procedure at Germantown Reproductive Health Services, according to pro-life organizations.
Morbelli arrived Feb. 3 at the clinic to begin the multiday procedure and returned the next three days for other steps in the abortion, according to Maryland Coalition for Life. Having experienced significant blood loss, she died at the hospital after arriving the morning of Feb. 7, a confidential source told the pro-life organization.
Carhart, likely the best known abortion doctor in the country, performs abortions not only in Maryland but also at clinics in Indianapolis and in Bellevue, Neb., Stanek reported. He left the Maryland clinic shortly after Morbelli departed from the center for the final time Feb. 6, according to Stanek's account. He typically performs abortions on Thursdays at one of the other clinics.
Morbelli and her husband TJ had learned recently their unborn daughter had some abnormalities, Stanek reported.
"The avoidable death of this young woman dramatically illustrates the dangers of third trimester abortions that are done outside of the safety of obstetrical standards," Operation Rescue President Troy Newman said in a written statement. "It is time for medical boards to put an end to these horrifically dangerous and barbaric third trimester abortions. If they do not, we can only expect Carhart and his associates to send more women to the morgue."
Kathy Morbelli criticized pro-life comments regarding her daughter-in-law's death.
"They know she was a wanted baby, they know she was named," she told The Journal News. "I just wish that the people could let my son, who is only 29 years old, mourn in peace.... We have no comment on the doctor."
STATE LEGISLATURES CONSIDERING PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE -- Advocates of physician-assisted suicide are promoting legislation to legalize the practice in several state legislatures.
Legislators in Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont are considering bills in their current sessions, the Associated Press reported Feb. 8. These efforts follow voters' rejection in November of a Massachusetts ballot initiative to legalize assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide proponents contend that measure, though defeated, aided their cause by raising "the consciousness of the nation and in particular the Northeast region to this issue ...," said Mickey MacIntyre of Compassion & Choices, a pro-assisted suicide organization, AP reported.
Assisted suicide foes say Compassion & Choices and other outside organizations, not in-state groups, are pushing the legislation in Connecticut.
"There's no grassroots cry for assisted suicide in the state of Connecticut," said Peter Wolfgang of the Family Institute, according to AP. "[Outside assisted suicide advocates] look at the Northeast and think this is low-hanging fruit: 'We can conduct our social experiments here in the Northeastern United States.'"
Assisted suicide has yet to gain approval in any state legislature. It is legal in both Oregon and Washington as a result of voter passage of ballot measures in support of permitting doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for terminally ill patients.
The campaign for assisted suicide is misleading, foes say.
"While assisted suicide is often promoted as a 'personal decision' in the hands of the 'terminally ill,' this is quite far from reality," wrote Jennifer Popik, legislative counsel for the National Right to Life Committee. "Disability rights groups, one of the most vocal opponents of these measures, voice opposition ... anywhere this legislation is promoted.
"Proponents of doctor-prescribed suicide measures often tout so-called safeguards," she said. "Not only are these safeguards not working, but there are dangerous loopholes in Oregon's and Washington's laws. There is no way to know how many people suffering from mental illness have used this law."
NYC HOSPITAL PROTECTS PRO-LIFE WORKERS AFTER COERCION CHARGE -- A New York City hospital has revised its policies to guarantee conscience protections for pro-life health care providers.
Mount Sinai Hospital made the changes after the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Civil Rights investigated in response to a request from a nurse who said the medical center coerced her to take part in a late-term abortion.
Catherine Cenzon-DeCarlo, a Roman Catholic, alleged she was required to assist in the abortion of a 22-week-old unborn child in 2009. The hospital had been aware of her religious objections to abortion since 2004, she said. In addition, her immediate help was not needed, because the woman who underwent the abortion was not in crisis, she said.
"Pro-life medical personnel shouldn't be forced to participate in abortions, and the new policies and procedures at Mt. Sinai reflect that," said Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), in a Feb. 12 written statement. "The hospital seems to have decided to do the right thing and respect the conscience rights of its employees, who are protected by both federal and state law."
The hospital responded to the federal investigation by agreeing in writing it would obey federal conscience protection laws, train its employees to keep record of those workers who object to taking part in abortions and change its written policy to say it would not discriminate against employees based on their refusal to assist with abortions, according to ADF.
In 2009, Mount Sinai officials told Cenzon-DeCarlo, a senior nurse, she would be charged with "insubordination and patient abandonment" and would face discipline, possibly including the loss of her job and/or nursing license, according to ADF, which filed a lawsuit in her behalf. Her lawsuit continues in a county court.
ARKANSAS BANS ABORTION COVERAGE IN INSURAGE EXCHANGE -- Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe signed into law Feb. 11 legislation prohibiting coverage of abortion in the state's health insurance exchange established by the 2010 health care law popularly referred to as Obamacare.
The measure provides exceptions in the cases of a threat to the mother's life, rape and incest, according to the Associated Press.
Arkansas becomes the 21st state to bar abortion coverage under Obamacare, the National Right to Life Committee reported.
Pro-life leader Marjorie Dannenfelser commended Beebe, a Democrat.
"This simple measure protects taxpayers from being complicit in the deaths of unborn children and shows a good-faith effort to find common ground on this difficult issue," said Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Erin Roach and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).