Catholic Universities and Contraception

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Had someone told me when I accepted my admittance to Georgetown University that I would subsequently be relinquishing my basic rights as a female and accepting a status as second-class citizen, I probably would have picked a different university. Now this is not to imply that I don’t love my school, I do, but I had no idea how much Georgetown’s Catholic identity would conflict with my beliefs as a feminist.

Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic university in the country. Specifically, Georgetown is a Jesuit university. I knew both of these things when I applied, but since only 40% of the campus identified as “Catholic” with an even smaller percentage being “practicing Catholics,” I didn’t think being agnostic would be a problem.  Also, in the grand scheme of Catholic universities, Georgetown is arguably the most liberal. Students love to joke about the multiple times the Vatican has threatened to excommunicate the university when it does something that contrasts with Catholic principle. Not only does Georgetown have a fulltime Imam and Rabbi on campus, but we also have an active LGBT center, both firsts for a Catholic institution. Thus, I think I had a fair assessment in viewing Georgetown as an accepting place. Yet, for years there has been a hidden secret that new students discover the hard way: no contraception.

When I arrived at Georgetown, one of the first things I did was accept the student insurance plan. My old insurance only covered me in my home state and I knew that four years without an illness might be wishful thinking. Also, I wanted to easily be able to refill my medications without having to call my doctor back home. So when my birth control pills ran out in November of my freshman year, I went to the on-campus doctor to get a refill. I had been taking birth control pills since I was 14 for acne, and although my skin cleared up over the years, I continued taking birth control because it drastically reduced my pain during that time of the month. But when I went into the doctor’s office, I was met with a scrutinizing doctor that refused to fill my prescription. He then explained to me that contraception is against the university policy and is not covered under my insurance plan. I returned home rather frustrated and rejected, how was I going to afford $100 per month for birth control? Upon reading into the university plan, I discovered that birth control is covered for health purposes. However, when I called back, the doctor laughed that he knew I just wanted cheap birth control. He didn’t believe that I actually had a legitimate reason for needing these pills.

After this incident, my frustration translated to research. What else was my university denying me? What I discovered was shocking. Contraception, including condoms, cannot be purchased anywhere on campus. H*yas for Choice, the only pro-choice club on campus, is limited to one corner of campus where “free speech” is allowed. The club is denied all funding by the university and forbidden from discussing or functioning outside of this small square on campus. Yet, the pro-life club is allowed to operate anywhere on campus. If students are found posting flyers or wearing clothes that promote or encourage contraception or abortion they can be subject to disciplinary action.

All of this has been covered up by the university year after year and kept relatively out of the media. That is, until the Sandra Fluke story broke early last year. As a Georgetown University student, Sandra experienced the same situation myself and countless other students were going through: denial of our health needs as women. Campus exploded with anger and protests and rallies became the norm as students demanded more from our university administrators. Professors and students alike sent petitions to the university president urging him to consider revising the university policy. Yet, time and time again, he has refused to comment. With the passage of Obamacare, it looks like the university will have no choice but to reform. The Affordable Care Act explicitly requires that contraception be available to all students enrolled in federally funded universities. However, as the Catholic church continues to fight the contraception mandate in Obamacare, students at Catholic universities face the sad reality that affordable contraception might never come to fruition.

As for me, I will continue to demand more from my university. The lack of contraception on campus puts young women at risk and increases the probability of unsafe sex practices. As a college student already struggling to pay my tuition, I should not be forced to pay $100 per month for my basic health needs. Georgetown University and Catholic universities alike must face the reality that we will not go down without a fight and continue to demand the respect we deserve as woman.

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