- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

A second Virginia university has stopped distributing emergency contraceptive pills as a result of inquiries by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, who has demanded more information from state-funded schools about the dissemination of the drug.

George Mason University became the second state school in Virginia to stop distributing ECPs since Mr. Marshall, Prince William Republican, first began his investigation into the matter in March. James Madison University’s board of trustees voted April 18 to stop distributing ECPs after receiving a March 31 letter Mr. Marshall sent to several state-funded schools.

GMU had recently discovered they were distributing the pills, which are taken within 72 hours after intercourse to prevent conception, without a license to dispense, according to Maryann Braun, director of the campus health center.

“It came to our attention that we were doing something here that we maybe should not have been doing,” Ms. Braun said. She estimated that GMU stopped giving out the pills, also known as morning-after pills, about a month ago. The school continues to write prescriptions for ECPs to students.

Ms. Braun said she could not answer how long ago George Mason started distributing the pills. It has been common practice to give them to students since she arrived at the school two years ago, she said.

James Madison’s decision sparked controversy among the student body, which collected more than 2,700 signatures in support of a student government bill asking the board to reverse its decision. That bill will be presented to the board at its next meeting on June 6.

The JMU board’s decision and the corresponding debate, which centers around the highly-controversial question of when life begins, has drawn a lot of attention from the media and the public.

Two groups against sexual assault and domestic violence canceled events at JMU early in May to protest the board’s decision, but later last month, the Family Foundation of Virginia held a banquet at the school in the board’s honor and presented the board a Courage in Leadership award.

Parents and alumni who favor and oppose the board’s move also have called the university to express their opinion, said JMU spokesman Fred Hilton.

Mr. Marshall, a devout Catholic, is opposed to ECPs because he believes they are a form of abortion. Proponents of the pill have argued that ECPs are not abortive, like the drug RU-486, but rather prevent conception by stopping an egg from being released so sperm can’t fertilize it, or by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus and growing.

Mr. Marshall is determined to stop state universities from distributing and prescribing ECPs. He has written numerous letters, asked for meetings with school officials, and challenged “Sexfest 2003,” a sex-education event at JMU.

He also has agreed to a September debate at the University of Virginia, sponsored by the student newspaper, and said fellow Republican Kathy J. Byron of Campbell County will introduce a bill next year to prohibit schools from giving ECPs to students.

“I’m not going to stop until all these things are off the campus,” he said. “The parents in my district have been uniformly opposed to this practice and were shocked that this was going on …I got a phone call from one woman who said she was taking JMU out of her will. She was livid.”

On May 29, Mr. Marshall sent a 16-question Freedom of Information Request to GMU, Virginia Tech University, Old Dominion University and Longwood University, and a modified request with fewer questions to JMU, the University of Virginia and Radford University.

“By law they have to respond. If they don’t, I can take them to court,” Mr. Marshall said.

Only Longwood had responded as of yesterday, according to a spokesman, but spokesmen for other schools said they planned to respond within a week. UVA and Virginia Tech did not return phone calls.

At GMU, Ms. Braun said she had not heard of anyone considering legal action against the school for distributing ECPs without a pharmaceutical license. The only person with possible intent to do so, she said, is Mr. Marshall.

“What’s he trying to do? I cannot imagine this is the most important issue on his plate,” she said.

Mr. Marshall said, “Giving women a powerful drug that can cause early abortion and not telling them is a very important issue to a lot of people. And why universities should be involved in this is another question that a number of my colleagues will be taking up next year.”

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