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The Supreme Court announced a monumental decision concerning religious rights on Wednesday, July 8 — the court upheld a regulation that allows employers with religious or moral objections to limit access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act.
Fordham University, a Jesuit-affiliated school, conforms to New York state guidelines when it comes to health insurance, according to Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications. Both university employees and students on the university-issued health insurance, Aetna, receive coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive products and procedures.
However, unlike their health care coverage, the university itself has its conflicts with students and the lack of sex education and awareness on campus because Fordham follows Catholic guidelines in relation to birth control. As a result, birth control is not distributed by the Health Center and the distribution of contraceptives on Fordham campuses or with the university’s resources is prohibited.
Health Services and Sexual Health
Contraceptives are covered under Aetna Student Insurance, the required provider for Fordham students without health insurance. “Honestly, the moment I found out about the Supreme Court ruling, the first thought that came to my head was ‘oh my god, there’s a good chance that Fordham will take it out of our aetna student insurance,’” said Anita Kwok, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’22 and secretary of Feminist Alliance.
According to Kwok, there have also been instances of birth control-shaming in University Health Services (UHS) and refusal to permit reproductive health-associated guests for club events.
Ellie Tycer, FCLC ’23, said she first realized Fordham was going out of its way to prevent safe sex when she talked to friends attending other schools. “Friends at other universities encountered posters promoting safe sexual habits, information on how to obtain prescription contraceptives, and opportunity upon opportunity to obtain condoms,” she said.
“I was never exposed to these resources at Fordham LC. Instead, Fordham uses the restriction of ‘opposite sex’ guests overnight in dorms and a complete lack of sex Ed information as attempts to eliminate intercourses from happening in dorms and therefore any unsafe sex.”
This is not an uncommon practice at Jesuit universities, including schools such as Boston College and Loyola University Chicago. Each university’s response to the availability and prescription of contraception revolves around the same repetition of Catholic moral and family values. Fordham describes their refusal to provide contraception as “standard practice.”
Even though Fordham upholds the Catholic doctrine in regards to the distribution of contraceptives on campus, not all students accept that doctrine themselves. In a survey conducted by The Observer in 2019, it was revealed that 62% of the 315 Fordham students sampled were sexually active and nearly 8% of those students were having unprotected sex.
Of the sexually active students, 27% had considered forgoing the use of contraceptives because they are not easily accessible on campus; 10% considered forgoing them because they were too expensive.
In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that providing employers with the moral grounds to dictate the supply of contraception is forcing underprivileged women to forgo contraception or use less effective methods. Without full-coverage of birth control methods, women would be forced to pay out of pocket for alternative health insurance or birth control.
The Health Center currently provides routine gynecological examinations, pap smears, sexually transmitted infection testing and pregnancy testing. Services are offered five days per week, by appointment.
When asked if any changes have been made to the Health Center’s feminine care policy, Maureen Keown, director of university health services, stated that the aforementioned policies were not affected by the Supreme Court’s decision.
Fordham does state that they make limited exceptions for birth control if there is an existing medical condition along with proof of the condition. However, former and current students attest that these exceptions are difficult to come by.
In 2014, one student at Rose Hill was denied a renewal of prescription for birth control by the UHS on the grounds that hormonal birth control is most commonly used as a contraceptive. Later that week, that student collapsed and was taken to the hospital. She had ovarian cysts and needed a new prescription in order to treat her condition.
This student’s condition and treatment is not an anomaly. Hormonal birth control pills have been known to treat or prevent a variety of medical conditions in women, including polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, premenstrual syndrome and primary ovarian insufficiency. Additionally, the use of contraceptives during sex is essential to protect against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
Fordham has affirmed its commitment to the health and safety of its students. “If you’re going to be your best in the classroom, you’ve got to be at your best physically and emotionally, too,” the university states on its website for health and safety.
Lack of Safe Sex Information and Resources Among RAs
With an emphasis on health and safety, Resident Assistants (RAs) in McMahon are required to update two bulletin boards every month, and one of those boards is supposed to be used for health and well-being awareness.
These bulletin boards in the hallways of the McMahon residence hall are never filled with resources regarding sex education and safety.
“In terms of what you can put on the bulletin board, that is really up to the RD (Resident Director),” a former RA who asked to remain anonymous said. “There wasn’t a set list of ideas that you couldn’t put on the bulletin board.”
According to the RA, each RA submits a proposal for their bulletin board topic to the RD, who must then approve it in order for the health and well-being idea to come into fruition. RAs are also encouraged to host events for their residents with the intention to either educate or to build community on their floor, while at the same time keeping aligned with the Jesuit traditions. RAs are supplied with a budget to spend on their events, but the budget and event concept all must be approved by the RD as well.
“I highly suspect that if you had a proposal and it called for giving out contraceptives, using Fordham dollars, that would probably not get approved,” the RA said. “Unless you can figure out a way to rationalize it within the Jesuit tenets — which is impossible.”
“The university being able to regulate students’ access to knowledge and supplies will do nothing other than lead to students getting into unsafe situations that could be avoided,” Lucy Murray, FCLC ’23, said. Murray cited reproductive health as one of the most pressing health issues in our age bracket.
“Students expect their university to take care of them and for many people, reproductive health and planning is a big part of their wellbeing and ability to control their own future, and not being able to trust that the college has the students safety and best interests in mind is upsetting,” she said.
To learn how to be a role model and handle the needs of residents, RAs undergo several training sessions: two to three weeks before the start of the fall semester, a few days before the start of the spring semester and then at least two out of three sessions during each semester. When asked whether RAs are educated on sexual health topics at these trainings, the RA responded, “Not really.”
According to the RA, if a situation related to a student’s physiological health is brought to their attention, the RA is supposed to defer the student to UHS. If that problem is interfering with that student’s mental or academic well-being, then it may be in the RA’s realm of influence, however, RAs are not educated on topics of sex education duirng their trainings.
“This rule that clearly originates from a ‘moral judgment’ is sex negative, ignores the presence of many queer students, and lastly, is ineffective at preventing intercourse,” Tycer said. “Fordham’s ‘attempts’ to prevent unsafe sex resemble the majority of public schools around the USA that teach abstinence-only sex Ed.”
“Fordham University has a very passive stance when it comes to sexual health, but especially when it comes to birth control methods,” the RA said. They added that having safe sex is not promoted by ResLife because it goes against Jesuit values.
Due to its longstanding practice of withholding contraception from women on campus, Fordham does not seem open to deviating from its Catholic values in the near future. The Supreme Court decision enacted on July 8 further cements the university’s right to the passivity students continue to associate with its stance.
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