[OPINION | Dash of SAS] A right to say no to a pregnancy test
Pines City Colleges (PCC) in Baguio made it to the news a few weeks ago when a school memo requiring female students to undergo a pregnancy test was shared on social media and quickly went viral.
According to the memo, the students would also need to pay P150 for the pregnancy test.
This policy is problematic. At the most basic level, a pregnancy test can be purchased over the counter for as low as P90. On the most incredulous level, there are institutions like PCC that blatantly violate laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender like the Magna Carta of Women and think they are within reason for doing so.
Twyla Rubin of the Gender Ombudsman at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and other groups held a dialogue with PCC officials as part of an initial investigation. PCC defended its policy, saying:
Students agreed to the mandatory pregnancy test.
No student has ever complained about the policy before.
The policy was in place even before the Magna Carta of Women was passed.
PCC did not name any particular school but insisted that there are many other schools who require their female students to undergo a pregnancy test.
PCC further insisted that the policy was initiated to protect the health and well-being of a pregnant woman and her unborn child.
I called PCC and asked to speak to Ms Regina Prats, PCC vice president for administration and one of the signatories of the memo. Her assistant, Caroline, politely but firmly refused to transfer my call to Prats and repeatedly said that I should refer to the PCC statement posted on its Facebook page.
Discrimination of women based on pregnancy
PCC's defense is egregious and flawed. First of all, just because no one complained or because other schools are allegedly doing it, does not give PCC a free pass to implement such a policy. Secondly, the passage of the Magna Carta of Women requires all institutions to ensure that their policies and regulations are consistent with the law. Lastly, PCC cannot claim that the female students freely agreed to undergo a pregnancy exam. It is not free choice when a punitive environment for students who fall pregnant is a matter of school policy.
Consider the provisions in the PCC student manual shared by the Likhaan Center for Women's Health:
- Pregnant students must not enroll in Clinical Dentistry or any subject (Roentgenology, Anesthesiology, Endodontics, Hospital Dentistry, and Community Dentistry II and III) that will "endanger mother and child." Female students are "required to undergo pregnancy test to be administered by the institution's medical clinic."
- Any student who gets pregnant must report her condition to the Dean. Those who get pregnant at the start or middle of the semester must drop out of the subjects mentioned and go on leave for a year, or continue with only her general education/cultural subjects.
- A student who intentionally fails to report her pregnancy will be in violation of policies and considered dropped or failed in the mentioned subjects. She must submit a letter of explanation, drop the subjects, and limit herself to cultural subjects if she wishes to continue.
- If the findings of the school physician are contradicted by an outside physician, the school physician prevails. Objections must be done in writing on the same notification day. The student must also agree to subject herself to further medical evaluations by the school, at the student's expense. Further objections will go to the Dean whose decision will be final and executory.
As if that weren't enough humiliation, there is this additional provision:
- In order to enroll, the student and her guardian must also agree that a student who commits abortion shall be dismissed and be subjected to thorough investigation. She must show proof of her claim and be willing to submit herself to medical evaluation.
How does the school intend to conduct a thorough investigation to prove or disprove that a woman had an abortion?!
A statement released by Likhaan and signed by other women's rights advocates lists 5 reasons why the policy is damaging to young women's mental health and future aspirations. An excerpt from the statement reads:
The sanctions on women found to be pregnant or had an abortion are not "protective," but harsh and judgmental. Mandatory self-reporting and written explanations of one's pregnancy or denial of abortion are gross violations of privacy and confidentiality and expose women to stigma and judgment. Forced leave, failing grades, and dismissal from college because of their reproductive condition or decision will set back these young women from the pursuit of their chosen careers.
Likhaan further asserted that while students may be exposed to certain elements in the course of their study, there are standard ways of protecting pregnant women from these risks, such as protective gear against radiation.
Challenge of upholding gender equality
Rather than referencing scientific evidence, a medical school like PCC is choosing to exaggerate the risks linked with pregnancy. Despite being an academic institution that should set an example for exemplary law-abiding behavior, PCC insists that it is entitled to its own interpretation of laws.
Laws guarantee our individual rights, but it is everyone's duty to enforce and uphold the law.
We can start by orienting ourselves on laws like the Magna Carta of Women. It does seem tedious but when you know what rights are afforded to you, you will feel less helpless in being made to comply with policies you know are unjust and discriminatory just because "the school said so."
Pregnancy is not a crime for you or me. Neither should it be a crime for PCC students. – Rappler.com
Does your school or organization have policies like a mandatory pregnancy test?
Know your rights. Read the Magna Carta of Women here.
Ana P. Santos writes about sex and gender issues for Rappler. She is also the 2014 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Miel Fellow.