H*yas for Choice convened a panel of representatives from Georgetown Health Education Services, Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington and Advocates for Youth to discuss sexual health resources on Georgetown’s campus Monday night.
The panel was composed of PPMW Legislative Affairs Organizer Michelle Woods, PPMW Sexual Health Educator Blanca Torres, Advocates for Youth international policy analyst Amanda Keifer and Director of Georgetown Health Education Services Carol Day.
Day discussed the flaws of the Student Health Clinic run by Medstar in St. Mary’s, including long wait times and Georgetown’s religious affiliation affecting its type of care.
“Student Health will even prescribe birth control pills, but not primarily only for contraception,” Day said. “Under the Affordable Care Act you have a right to have these services anywhere, including under Georgetown. But our hospital, because they’re Catholic, some people will do it, some people won’t.”
Grace brought up the concern of students who feel the need to misrepresent their medical requirements in order to obtain birth control.
“If you’re not honest then they can’t really help you as much as they could help you if you were totally honest,” Day said. “You’re not going to surprise them with anything … they’re not making judgments like you think they are.”
Torres was adamant that if students feel judged, they should seek care elsewhere.
“I can understand being afraid of feeling judged when they might not prescribe you birth control because you want it for preventing pregnancy,” Torres said. “However if you’re going to a doctor, and you’re having those feelings, find another doctor, don’t be intimidated by the insurance process.”
Woods outlined the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case and how it has affected women across the country. Last June, Hobby Lobby, an Evangelical Christian corporation, challenged the Affordable Care Act and the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have religious freedom to disregard the contraceptive mandate. This has huge implications for many companies and their employees who can be denied access to intrauterine devices, the morning after pill and other forms of birth control.
“The overall picture moving forward is how do we access women’s rights and women’s health … if corporations and companies have more rights than women?” Woods said.
Keifer, who does opposition research for Advocacy Youth, discussed how the Hobby Lobby case has implications for LGBTQ rights as well. She said that although there are differences between the pro-choice and the pro-LGBTQ rights movements, the two should join forces to advocate for sexual rights.
“Reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, bodily integrity — all those things are rolled into one very important narrative, and that is what we get to do what we want with our bodies,” Keifer said.
Since 2010, when many tea party candidates came into Congress, more anti-choice legislation has been passed than ever before in the United States. The biggest barriers to access of sexual health resources are parental consent laws, mandatory ultrasound laws, and a 24-hour waiting period with counseling before an abortion. These laws, all aimed at preventing abortions, exist in several states, including Virginia. In both Virginia and D.C., as well as across the country, public funding cannot go to an abortion other than when a women’s life is in danger, rape or incest are involved.
But the movement to provide sexual health resources has had some victories, according to Woods.
“We’ve been decreasing unintended pregnancies across the nation, even with these crazy laws, and a lot of that is access to contraceptives and reproductive health care,” Woods said.
Torres discussed the important steps student should be taking in regard to their own sexual health. She urged students to ask for five tests on a regular basis: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV and hepatitis. According to her, specificity is key when talking to a doctor, as is getting tested for those STDs regardless of symptoms and sexual orientation.
“Providers will make assumptions based on your age, your race, your gender, your sexual identity to decide what tests you should be tested for,” Torres said. “But in reality, if you are sexually active you are at risk for STDs.”
According to a Georgetown survey conducted every two years, the top two sexually transmitted diseases on campus are herpes and chlamydia.
Keifer stressed the need for young adults to advocate for themselves when it comes to their sexual health.
“As young people who are empowered and hopefully have knowledge … you need to take that knowledge into the office,” Keifer said. “Make sure you are being your own agent and ask the questions you feel like really get at your specific needs.”
Annie Mason (NHS ’18) said she came to the talk to learn more about on-campus sexual health resources.
“[I came] to hear the dynamic from health [education] on campus…just kind of wondering from a feminist pro-choice standpoint what resources are offered to me on campus and how open health [education] is to providing resources to students … in terms of reproductive health and sexual health,” Mason said.
Tevin Simard (COL ’18) also said he came to the panel to gain a better understanding of the sexual health resources on campus, a topic not often openly discussed at a Jesuit university.
“The reason I came out here today was to get more information on sexual health resources on campus and also in the D.C. Metropolitan area, only because those resources aren’t very well advertised due to the Catholic nature of our institution,” Simard said.