A call to update Villanova’s policies on contraceptives

Lauren Sorantino

Steps need to be taken to move toward free contraceptives on campus

There are still colleges in the United States today with student health policies that refuse students the ability to obtain contraceptives in any form.  Yes, that’s correct. Students cannot obtain birth control on campus.  Given the progress we’ve made as a society in opening a dialogue on safe sex and the transparency of our generation about our sexual activity, these policies seem wildly naïve on the part of the colleges, right?  Given the research that has been done proving the health benefits of birth control for young women, would it be a stretch to say these policies are unsafe?

This institution, unfortunately, is one of the few colleges that possesses a student health policy regarding contraceptives which looks like it came straight out of the ‘70s.  Due to Villanova’s Catholic affiliation, it is under the mandate of ERDs.  ERDs, more formally called Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, is the name of the document that offers moral guidance, drawn from the Catholic Church’s theological and moral teachings, on various aspects of health care delivery.  These ERDs obviously forbid contraceptive use.  I realize that the university is in a tough situation in that it cannot blatantly go against the CHCS’s document, but it needs to begin to take steps to modernize its position on contraceptives—not just to make a political statement, but for the well-being of its students.

Most Villanova students probably don’t realize that Villanova’s anti-contraceptive policy is so unfair, because they don’t realize what exists on other college campuses.  In reality, the vast majority of colleges in the United States offer contraceptives in multiple forms as a part of a student’s standard, required health care plan. On campus.  For free.

The University’s current policy regarding sexual health is incredibly passive and frankly, contradictory.  It offers STD and pregnancy tests, but it does not offer the items that could easily prevent both of these things.  Offering STD and pregnancy testing indicates that the university acknowledges that its students are sexually active.  If this is the case, why wouldn’t Villanova take all and any steps to work around ERDs to ensure that students practice safe sex?

A significant number of Villanova’s students are not even Catholic and should not be subject to the Church’s mandate regarding contraceptives.  Though they elected to attend a Catholic university, Villanova’s compliance with this mandate has crossed the line by forcing Catholic values on non-Catholic students if these students purchased health care through Villanova. Villanova’s student health policy makes it difficult and costly for female students to obtain birth control, which may be essential for ensuring their health.

As far as the Catholic students go, I have yet to come across a single young woman who has abstained from using birth control purely on the grounds that it violates her Catholic faith.  Most are discovering that birth control differs from the discourse that often surrounds it: it is not a sinful substance consumed only by promiscuous women so that they can be irresponsible in their sex lives and not face pregnancy as a result.  The understanding of contraceptives is rapidly changing.  Many physicians are proponents of placing young women on birth control pills in order to curb a wide variety of health issues, ranging from skin problems to ovarian cancer.  From my observations, it seems that being on the pill is standard among my female peers, and health reasons more often than not prompted their use of the pill.

Among other universities with Catholic affiliations, this same refusal to administer any means of contraception is present—with one exception: Georgetown.  With no shortage of irony, the nation’s oldest Catholic university was the first to come around and put its students’ health before some vague and antiquated policy. Though students cannot physically retrieve contraceptives from the student health center on Georgetown’s campus, contraceptives are now covered under the school’s health insurance plan and can be picked up at a pharmacy right off campus.  This is incredibly fair, given the fact that the insurance company collaborating with Georgetown lacks any religious affiliation.  Georgetown’s decision to include contraception coverage in its health care plan may not have accomplished most students’ goal of being able to receive contraceptives right on campus, but it was certainly a step in the right direction.  It was also a clever way to sidestep CHCS’s policy while still ensuring the well-being of Georgetown’s students.  It is evidence that it is possible to circumvent the policy that is holding Catholic universities back and preventing the well-being of their students.  Steps like these are what will get the ball rolling and prompt the Church to question its position on contraceptives.

It is time for the Catholic Church to update its stance on contraceptives, but Catholic universities like Villanova should not wait around for the Church to change.  In the meantime, Villanova should be following in the footsteps of Georgetown and seeking ways to get contraceptives into the hands of its students.