As a child of the 80s, I realize there are many fights I’ve been lucky enough to miss because of the throw down activism of generations of women before me. From the right to vote to Title IX to Roe, women have been paving the way so that my generation and those that follow are not treated differently simply because we have vaginas.
But low and behold, in 2012, we are revisiting a fight that few of my generation ever thought we’d have to engage in: the fight over birth control.
When I was deciding what college was best for me, I looked at schools based on the types of degrees they offered, the quality of the faculty, the professor-student ratio, financial aid availability and more. I ended up attending Georgetown University because of its School of Foreign Service and the Jesuit ideal they espoused of “men and women for others.” While I, a spiritual yet unreligious student, was concerned about going to a Catholic school, I was reassured that the University did not push its faith on its students; it was only there if we wanted it. In fact, in my four years there, the closest thing to Mass I attended was the Convocation.
What I didn’t realize was that while Georgetown prided itself on diversity and inclusion of many faiths and beliefs (we had a rabbi and imam on campus as well), it nonetheless imposed its faith on female students by denying them access to birth control in its student health plans. Condoms were also not to be distributed on campus, except in our free speech zone, or “Red Square,” and by the rogue group H*yas for Choice (not officially affiliated with the university, hence the * that came from a lawsuit).
While students (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) at Georgetown have been fighting back against these restrictions for years, the fight has now gone national as the Catholic Bishops have decided that religious-affiliated employers and universities should be able to impose their interpretation of a religion on their employees’ and students’ health insurance.
To follow most of the media’s coverage on this, you’d think that the Obama administration is force-feeding the pill to Catholic Bishops when in fact, not only do actual churches NOT have to cover contraception, but you, as an employee or student at a religious-affiliated institution, don’t have to access this benefit.
Health insurance exists because it’s incredibly expensive to buy anything out of pocket-including contraception. Birth control can cost around $50 a month. About half of women struggle to pay for what can total $600 in a year. Making contraception accessible means that women are more likely to use it. Shocking, I know. And considering the fact that half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended and we have the highest teen birth rate in the developing world, you’d think access to contraception would be something we’d all agree on (especially those who fight to take away access to abortion services AND complain non-stop about low-income women accessing services like welfare, food stamps and WIC).
When I was at Georgetown, I had friends on the student health plan who were sexually active and went without contraception. After working with students at Boston College, I learned of a phrase that their sexual health group spent their time fighting against, “pull and pray” as in “pull out and pray you don’t get her pregnant.”
Because that’s what happens when you take away access to contraception.
Just because you attend school or work at a religious-affiliated institution does not mean you have to comply with the belief system of that institution. On the college-level, many of these schools brag about their religious diversity as a way to recruit new students-especially student athletes. Could you imagine what would happen to Notre Dame’s football team or Georgetown’s basketball team if they insisted that all students be Catholic? Yeah, right.
The thing is that the media is making this a much bigger deal than it actually is. Just because the Catholic Bishops are pissed does not mean every other Catholic or person of faith is pissed. In fact, new polling data show that the majority of Catholics support the Administration’s decision. When will the media highlight that?
Or what about the fact that in December the House held a hearing on this issue and a representative from the Catholic Healthcare Association had to admit that some of its hospitals already cover contraception.
At my alma mater, while students are denied contraception through their health plans, employees are not.
And in 2009, almost 90% of students at Boston College (70% of whom identify as Catholic) voted to make birth control prescriptions available from their student health services.
The point is, to Americans and especially young Americans, this decision is a big deal in the right direction. To listen to the Catholic Bishops as if they represent the views of all Catholics or people of faith is absolutely absurd.
Like I said before, I’m a child of the 80s. I in no way thought that birth control would be my fight and frankly I’m pissed as hell that it is. I don’t want the next generation of women to have to check into whether contraception is available or not when applying to the college or job of their dreams. It’s 20-freaking-12. We should be long over this fight, but please believe that young women will not back down.