Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault on campus. Please refer to the end of the article for resources on and off campus.
Emergency contraception — also known as Plan B or the morning-after pill — is an important aspect of sexual health, especially for survivors of sexual assault. The Student Health Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital do not currently supply Plan B.
To better care for survivors of sexual assault on campus, both the Student Health Center and the hospital should begin offering Plan B for survivors of sexual assault.
Emergency contraception, when taken within five days of unprotected sex, works to prevent pregnancy. To make an important distinction: Emergency contraception is not the same thing as a medication abortion. Emergency contraception impedes ovulation to prevent pregnancy, a medication abortion is a combination of two pills that obstruct the hormones necessary to maintain an already existing pregnancy and empty the uterus.
According to Catholic teachings, the morning-after pill is unethical, and is — unscientifically — conflated with medication abortion. Yet, some Catholics believe certain circumstances, such as sexual assault, permit the moral use of emergency contraception when the woman has not already ovulated. Georgetown’s decision not to offer emergency contraception places them clearly outside of this more progressive camp.
Currently, survivors who go to Health Education Services looking for any medical care are referred to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where high-quality care for survivors of sexual assault is centralized in D.C. Such highly trained staff and centralized resources are important for substantial medical services like sexual assault forensic examinations, more commonly known as rape kits.
However, each survivor has their own preferences when it comes to care. Not every survivor wants to complete this extensive examination, perhaps because they do not wish to report the assault or because the procedure is too invasive. Some may only want to take emergency contraception to ensure they will not become pregnant as a result of the assault.
Survivors should not have to go all the way to Washington Hospital Center, roughly five miles away, to get medical care and obtain emergency contraception. In fact, they should not have to leave campus at all.
While emergency contraception is also available over the counter at the CVS on Wisconsin Avenue, there are multiple reasons why a survivor may not want to obtain Plan B there. As it is a 10- to 15-minute walk away, CVS is not the most convenient option for many students. Especially because emergency contraception has a higher success rate the sooner it is taken after unprotected sex, survivors should not have to wait any longer than necessary. The fastest, most convenient location for obtaining emergency contraception would be the Student Health Center and the MedStar Georgetown Hospital, so survivors can receive this care on campus outside of Student Health Center hours.
Furthermore, while emergency contraception is technically an over-the-counter drug, FDA restrictions stipulate that it cannot be stocked in the shelves like other over-the-counter medications. In the case of emergency contraception, “over-the-counter” simply means that an individual does not need a prescription to buy the medication. At the Georgetown CVS, emergency contraception is kept behind the front counter, and an individual must ask the cashier to obtain it. This may place unnecessary added emotional or psychological burdens on survivors.
Finally, most over-the-counter medication is not covered by insurance, so survivors would have to pay out of pocket. At the CVS on Wisconsin, the generic version of Plan B costs $33 and the on-brand Plan B medication costs $52 — a significant amount of money. However, different insurance plans might be able to cover emergency contraception if it were offered at the Student Health Center or the Medstar hospital.
These dilemmas — cost and emotional burden chief among them — apply to all individuals trying to receive emergency contraception, not just survivors of sexual assault. With the barriers to obtaining this basic aspect of sexual health care, Georgetown should provide Plan B to any student who wants it to cultivate a safe and healthy campus community where no individual has to worry about an unwanted pregnancy.
However, an important first step is offering this medication to survivors of sexual assault to promote a survivor-centric environment where the health needs of survivors are placed above potential religious roadblocks.
Talia Parker is a sophomore in the College. This is the final installment of Let’s Talk About Sex(ual Health).
Emergency contraception is available behind the front counter at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave. If you or anyone you know would like to obtain a sexual assault forensic examination or other medical care — including emergency contraception — call the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. at (202)742-1727. On-campus resources include Health Education Services and CAPS, and additional off-campus resources include the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (202-333-7273) and the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiner Washington Hospital Center (844-443-5732).