Jenny Kutner

A woman stands in the hallway of University Medical Center Brackenridge, Saturday afternoon. A Friday revision of a federal mandate exempts religiously-affiliated organizations, such as the Brackenridge hospital, from covering contraceptive service costs for employees.

Photo Credit: Lingnan Chen | Daily Texan Staff

Federal policy mandating most employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptive services to women has been altered, exempting religiously-oriented organizations from being responsible for covering the costs of such medication.

In a press conference on Friday, President Barack Obama announced the changes made to the federal mandate. Prior to the reversal, the President had faced criticism from members of the GOP, the Catholic Church and even many Democrats.

“If a woman works at a charity or religious hospital that objects to providing contraceptive services to her, the insurance company — not the charity, not the hospital — will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care,” Obama said.

Obama said the new version of the policy serves as a fair compromise in recognizing women’s rights while respecting religious values.

Jenny Kutner, Plan II senior and Texas Feminists president, said she thinks the mandate is an important step forward in providing more gender-equitable health care.

“I believe contraception should be accessible and affordable for all women who want it, and this mandate will help make that a reality,” she said.

Kutner said she does not support the changes made to the mandate.

“The mandate is not an attack on the Catholic Church, as it has been called, but rather an effort to allow women to take their health care into their own hands, regardless of where they work,” she said.

However, Monika Demkowicz, Plan II senior and Catholic Longhorns for Life president, said she does not believe the newest version of the mandate is acceptable.

“Churches and religious organizations will be forced to choose between providing insurance coverage that goes against their consciences and their faith or not providing insurance at all,” she said.

Demkowicz said in doing so, the federal government does not give religious institutions a real choice other than to violate their beliefs.

“Mandating religious organizations to provide for health ‘services’ that they are morally opposed to is a violation of conscience and religious liberty.”

Father Paul Kasun, priest in-residence at the St. Louis King of France Catholic Church and sociology graduate student, said he believes the issue is a wider question regarding sexuality.

“There’s a misunderstanding there. Contraception is not a dogma of the church, but instead relates to church doctrine,” he said.

Kasun said the Catholic Church is concerned with sustaining the quality of the relationship of married couples and ensuring that people are open to the possibility of life as a result of sexuality.

“Our doctrine is against things like condoms that are not open to the possibility of life,” he said.

Kasun said he is interested in how the issue will be settled.

“I see myself as being able to help people feel good about being Catholics and supporting our leadership,” Kasun said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how they resolve this.”

Printed on Monday, February 13, 2012 as: Contraception policy exempts religious affiliates

James Shaw, as the founder of Resist Attack, gives away pepper spray to women in hopes of increasing safety. The giveaways have begun in Austin, and Shaw hopes to eventually give every woman in America a free pepper spray.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Inspired by TOMS Shoes creator Blake Mycoskie, who donates a pair of free shoes for every pair purchased, Austinite James Shaw decided to start a similar mission, but with pepper spray.

Shaw, owner of the online company Resist Attack, distributes free pepper spray to women throughout Austin. Resist Attack sells many kinds of nonlethal self-defense weapons such as stun devices, pepper sprays and home security products. Since the launch of his mission in July of 2011, Shaw has spent all of the website’s profits on pepper spray giveaways.

Since arming every woman in America with pepper spray is a huge endeavor, Shaw said he has focused his efforts on women who are the most at risk, he said. He said he is most concerned about women with a history of battery or abuse through connections with local shelters and police stations, women who are frequently alone at night and women who are traveling or are away from home, such as businesswomen and college students. According to Resist Attack’s website, pepper spray is nonlethal, effective, legal and accessible tool in guarding against physical attacks. Since its inception, Resist Attack has handed out more than 800 pepper sprays, according to the website. “Female students are probably not going to go out and buy pepper spray,” Shaw said. “So I came up with a way to put it in their hands for free.”

Shaw started his family-owned business after bringing his daughter on college tours. He said he noticed how many female students were away from home without much protection, and came up with his mission — to give a free pepper spray to every woman in America.

He has held giveaways with UT student organizations such as the Texas Feminists, Texas Zephyrs and Omega Phi Alpha, as well as at Kinsolving Dormitory, an all girls on-campus hall. Shaw said he plans to visit Kinsolving on Jan. 26 again for a giveaway and to speak at a female self-defense program sponsored by the UT Police Department.

Texas Feminists President Jenny Kutner said Shaw’s efforts are empowering and very admirable. She was the first person at UT to help Shaw plan his giveaways around campus.

“You can’t expect every woman to take a self-defense class in order to protect herself,” Kutner said. “It’s a huge endeavor, but it is completely realistic to give each woman on campus pepper spray.”

Kutner is also a member of the Orange Jackets, another student organization helping promote Shaw’s pepper spray campaign.

“It is important to expose yourself to the pepper spray and understand that if you spray a perpetrator, you will most likely feel the effects of the spray as well,” said UTPD’s crime prevention officer Darrell Halstead. “I relate it to eating a jalapeno pepper and wiping your eyes with your hands after handling it,” he said. “Without practicing and without utilizing the pepper spray, you’re doing your self a disservice.”

Halstead said policeman always carry pepper spray while on duty and use it against attackers during ongoing assaults.

“Pepper spray is very, very effective,” Halstead said. ”The ultimate goal in any type of any self-defense product is not to go toe-to-toe with the bad guy or to put him in handcuffs. It’s to create an opportunity to escape.”