College women need affordable birth control

To borrow words from former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders: “Everybody in the world is opposed to sex outside of marriage, and yet everybody does it. I’m saying, ‘Get real.’”

There’s an equation that today’s society has come to understand. Even if you don’t teach kids about sex, they inevitably do it anyway. When they don’t understand birth control or can’t get their hands on it, girls inevitably get pregnant. And babies inevitably happen.

The Catholic Church in this country maintains ideals about sex that, while idyllic, are utterly unattainable in our not-quite-debauched but certainly not perfect society. You can preach and prod and ignore and demonize, but people are still going to “do it.” There’s no going around that. I’m not anyone to argue that sex shouldn’t be sacred, procreative and an utmost expression of love — so I won’t. But when these ideals of sexuality interfere with the well-being of women my own age and the social wellness of this country, there’s something that isn’t right.

Bridgette Dunlap is the face of The New York Times’ story about women’s difficulties obtaining birth control at Catholic universities, and she is a law student at Fordham University. Though the school’s health plan legally has to pay for her birth control pills, they simply refused to give her a prescription. Women in her same situation have had to get prescriptions elsewhere, sometimes through costly out-of-pocket visits to private doctors.

Many have questioned why students like Dunlap attended a Catholic university if they knew they would have trouble getting birth control. Michael Galligan-Stierle, the president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, memorably suggested that students should have known they would have difficulty: “No one would go to a Jewish barbecue and expect pork chops to be served.”

“When we hear conservative Catholic organizations ask what we expected when we enrolled at a Catholic school, we can only answer that we expected women to be treated equally, to have their medical needs met,” said Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke in Ariel Edwards-Levy’s Huffington Post piece on the issue.

Other students struggle because of health reasons. Women who take the pill to treat ailments like cysts often have to pay over $1,000 each year out-of-pocket if they can’t receive it through student insurance. For a struggling college student, coming up with that money isn’t easy.

TIME contributor Erika Christakis wrote this week that, “At a minimum, the Catholic bishops and employers resisting contraceptive coverage should be willing to pay for the care of all those unwanted children.”

I thought this was a little unfair initially. But all things considered, I think this makes some sense.

A World Health Organization study concluded that the abortion rates in countries with restrictive abortion policies aren’t much different than countries that have less restrictive abortion laws. I would think that on at least some level that hindering fertilization through contraception would be seen universally as better than terminating a pregnancy with abortion. Christakis suggested that “the only reliable way to reduce abortion is through the provision of affordable, accessible contraception.”

Even if young college women want or feel ready to raise a child, the reality is that those women usually can’t afford the costs. So everyone else does. A study published in 2011 by the Guttmacher Institute, an organization previously affiliated with Planned Parenthood, claims that unintended pregnancy costs U.S. taxpayers about $11 billion every year in public insurance costs for pregnancy and first-year infant care. Which would mean that public health insurance programs paid for the 64 percent of babies born from unintended pregnancies in 2006.

That might mean that we need an alternative insurance option for women who can’t receive contraception through the organization they’re affiliated with, or at least some way for women to study at the places they want to study while remaining sexually and physically healthy. Allowing young women to be at a loss for obtaining affordable contraception at the most sexually risky time in their lives might feel like the “right thing to do.” But it’s completely irresponsible.

So instead of the rightness and wrongness of it all, let’s look at the facts. We’re paying money that we don’t have for babies we often can’t take care of. Catholic or not, a college-age woman should be able to get birth control if she feels she needs it. If she can’t, we need to figure out how to change that, whether it’s Obama’s way or a different one. All logistical evidence seems to point in a certain direction: We need to take responsibility.

_Megan is a senior in Media._