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I love you, Georgetown, but we have a problem.

Georgetown University is a prestigious academic institution and home to some of the brightest minds in the United States. Like all universities, however, Georgetown has its imperfections. Perhaps its greatest fault is students' lack of access to contraceptives on campus. Georgetown is a Jesuit institution, so the Ethical and Religious Directives of Catholic Health Care heavily influence many university policies. These directives insist that "sponsors, trustees, administrators, chaplains, health care personnel, physicians, and patients or residents of these institutions express the Church's moral teaching."' Georgetown has implemented policies making it impossible for students to purchase condoms or birth control on campus because of these directives.

Georgetown is no stranger to criticism surrounding its students' sexual health. We all remember Rush Limbaugh's hideous comments about Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke and her speech to members of Congress that criticized Georgetown's health insurance for not covering hormonal contraceptives. In August 2011, the Dept, of Health and Human Services announced that employers must offer health plans that include contraceptive coverage. Fluke's speech was in response to Georgetown's choice to defy this regulation. The Obama Administration later recommended an exception for religious institutions that object to birth control and allowed third-parties to assume responsibility for contraception coverage. Thankfully, Georgetown took advantage of this modification, and the university health plan began covering hormonal contraceptives in August 2013.

The university still, unfortunately, lags behind its peers in terms of students' access to contraceptives. For instance, condoms cannot be sold on Georgetown property, including in privately owned convenience stores located on campus. Even more puzzling is the fact that these same stores sell personal lubricant and pregnancy tests. These policies imply that Georgetown does not condemn sex, just safe sex. Students are also able to buy tobacco products, rolling papers, and lighters. Why is Georgetown alright with students purchasing tobacco, which kills around 480,000 Americans each year (2), but not condoms, which actually prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

Additionally, the student health clinic cannot prescribe hormonal birth control for contraceptive purposes. If women are prescribed hormonal birth control for non-contraceptive purposes, like to treat acne, premenstrual dysmorphic disorder, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, the campus pharmacy still cannot fill the prescription.

The Church's influence would be less problematic if every student followed its teachings and reproductive regulations. Yet, Georgetown does not restrict applicants to Catholics; in fact, Georgetown openly encourages students from all faiths and traditions to apply. The university's website states, "Since its founding in 1789, Georgetown has welcomed a diverse community of students, faculty and staff. More than two centuries later--inspired by the Jesuit principles of equality and respect for all--we continue to build bridges of understanding within our multicultural campus community." (3) Georgetown boasts a welcoming environment for all, yet its policies discriminate against those who do not strictly abide by Catholic doctrine. These rules would also be less problematic if Georgetown made prospective students more aware of these institutional barriers to sexual health. Unfortunately, this information is difficult to find online and is certainly not included in acceptance packets.

Georgetown's reproductive policies are even more puzzling because it excels in other aspects of student life. Georgetown has a wonderful LGBTQ Resource Center and Women's Center that offer counseling and services to students in need. Health Education Services (HES) facilitates a healthy student body despite limitations from the Ethical and Religious Directives of Catholic Care; free pregnancy tests are available through HES 24/7. Additionally, all freshman dorms are co-ed (unlike many other Catholic universities), and there are very few restrictions for visitors and over-night stays in student housing.

Georgetown's policies ignore public health facts and increase students' risk of contracting an STI or becoming pregnant. Georgetown and the Church disregard the fact that college students have sex. College students live in close quarters and have little supervision, so sexual activity on campus is an inevitable reality. Sexual health is a public health issue, not a moral issue. Not only will college students have sex, but it is likely that they will have unsafe sex and increase their risk of pregnancy and contracting STIs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that young Americans aged 15 to 24 acquire half of all STIs in the United States and that 25% of sexually active females this age have an STI. (4) Habits formed in college often shape the rest of one's life. Having safe sex should be one of those habits formed in college. Universities should support students' ability to make healthy decisions when they choose to have sex, not make it more difficult to do so.

Students found a way around some restrictions by creating H*yas for Choice, a pro-choice, pro-reproductive freedom group that provides students with free condoms and comprehensive sexual health and pregnancy services. (A play on "Hoyas," the school's sports teams.) The group encourages healthy practices like safe sex, yet Georgetown does not officially recognize H*yas for Choice because its values conflict with Catholic doctrine. Fortunately, the group finds ways around university red tape and has remained a prominent voice on campus.

Don't get me wrong, attending Georgetown is one of the best decisions I have made. I am surrounded by wonderful people who constantly shape me into a better person. The majority of Georgetown students realize the risks of unprotected sex and make the effort to be safe in their relationships. However, some students do not make sexual health a priority. They may have attended high schools that taught abstinence-only education, or their parents or guardians may not have discussed sexual health with them. Georgetown needs to consider the health needs of every student, especially those who need information and support to practice safe sex. Hoyas are well-aware of a Georgetown motto, Cura Personalis, which means "care for the whole person." Georgetown, let's wake up and realize that the whole person also includes areas below the belt.

References are available from

Trish Kovach is a Senior at Georgetown University studying Healthcare Management and Policy and is pursuing a minor in Women's and Gender Studies. She was a NWHN intern in summer 2016.
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Title Annotation:YOUNG FEMINIST
Author:Kovach, Trish
Publication:Women's Health Activist
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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