The Perception of Contraception on a Catholic Campus

As a female who attends a Catholic university, I’m no stranger to the controversy regarding the use of contraceptives. Many assume that most students at a university like Notre Dame would share the same opinion as the Church: contraception = bad. However, the mass of opinions circulating campus indicate that the disagreements concerning birth control and sexuality, especially when looked at through a religious lens, really have no simple answer.  

The term “contraception” refers to any method one uses to attempt to prevent pregnancy. Some of these include the Birth Control Pill, intrauterine devices (IUDs), implants, condoms, sterilization, and abstinence. While the most commonly used form of contraception for females is the pill, not all who use it do so to prevent pregnancy. Other reasons for using the pill can range from relieving oneself of chronic acne to lessening the inconvenient side effects of menstruation. When it comes to contraception in general, around 60% of women in the U.S. that are of reproductive age (15-44) are using one form or another, and more than 99% of women who are sexually experienced (have had sexual intercourse) have used “at least one contraceptive method.”

 

Image courtesy of inviTRA

 

The Catholic stance on contraception emphasizes that using it prevents us as human beings from carrying out our purpose to continue God’s work of creation. As expressed in Gaudium et Spes, children are to be expected, welcomed, and cherished as a gift from God. At a Catholic university such as Notre Dame, these beliefs are evident in the policies set forth regarding the ability--or lack thereof--to obtain different forms of contraception on campus, as well as to receive coverage through the University’s health plan.

 

In 2013, Notre Dame attempted to sue the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the rule put forth as a result of the Affordable Care Act--that availability of birth control coverage was required for the students, faculty, and employees of educational institutions. In 2017, however, the Trump Administration made it possible for Notre Dame, along with other religious organizations, to refuse offering this coverage--but the University chose not to.

 

President John I. Jenkins C.S.C. later released a letter stating that a new policy would be adapted as of August, 2018, providing coverage for simple birth control (the pill and certain types of IUDs) through the University as opposed to a third party. Abortion-inducing drugs and emergency contraceptives that directly aid in the prevention or termination of pregnancy were not to be included in the plan. In terms of the option to purchase contraceptives on campus, Notre Dame continues to deny this option to undergraduates unless a simple form such as the pill is prescribed to treat a medical illness.

Image courtesy of TIME

 

While the University is a Catholic one, not everyone who attends identifies with the same religious affiliation or with the same belief system. I asked three female students to explain their viewpoints on religion and the use of contraception as it applies to their own lives and the lives of others here at Notre Dame.

 

How old are you?

 

    Woman A: 19

    Woman B: 19

    Woman C: 20

 

Are you religiously affiliated?

 

    Woman A: I’m technically Catholic, but I don’t particularly care about the Church’s     opinions.

    Woman B: Christian (loosely)

    Woman C: I’m Catholic.

 

Do you consider yourself to be pro-life or pro-choice and why?

 

    Woman A: I’m definitely pro-choice because I don’t think the government should be able to regulate such a serious choice for a woman, especially when rape and risk to the mother come into consideration.

    Woman B: I’d have to say I’m pro-choice. I don’t really see abortion as something to be dictated by the government, but it is a controversial issue to talk about. I guess it comes down to a few things.

  1. Abortion rates decrease during democratic presidencies and disproportionately lean toward women who struggle financially. Thus, abortion can be connected to socioeconomic struggles. I think an important mindset to take then would be: how can we as a country do better for these women struggling financially, rather than saying, “just don’t get pregnant.”

  2. Large pro-life sentiment arises from saying the baby’s life should matter and be valued the same as other babies. I’m not here to say this is wrong--I guess this brings up the discussion of when life begins. But my main concern is, what about rape victims/babies who endanger their mother/terminally ill babies/whatever other “exceptions” people make? Doesn’t this contradict the whole, “all babies matter” sentiment? To be honest, I think a lot of people--myself included--say we’d never get an abortion and would like to believe so because that’s the morally comfortable choice to make. But I don’t think this is something we know until we’re actually put in that situation. If, as a society, we agree on the moral discomfort of permitting abortion, maybe we need to examine the society as a whole and see if we can alleviate the socioeconomic stress that so often causes abortion. Are we comfortable with living in a society where we demand hanger abortions and other such practices rather than medical safety? How do we compare to countries such as those in Latin America that make abortion illegal?

    Woman C: I consider myself to be pro-life because of my religion, and I don’t believe that abortion is the answer to dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.

 

Do you believe in abstinence until marriage? Why or why not?

 

    Woman A: I think people who practice abstinence until marriage are admirable, but I don’t practice that myself and don’t think that it takes any value away from my relationships.

    Woman B: While I do see the benefits of abstinence and limiting the sexualization of our society, I see the emphasis of safe sex as perhaps a better or more realistic goal. Sex is natural and while we shouldn’t over indulge in any natural tendency (i.e. don’t overeat, oversleep, etc.), sex is going to happen. So, for myself, I think there is no shame in practicing safe sex with a person I trust and am comfortable with, and who respects me. An open conversation with my mom made me feel empowered to make my own decisions regarding sex in a way that would be aligned with the morals I have developed--it feels great knowing I have someone to turn to if things go wrong or I feel unsafe without risking being shamed or ridiculed. I know people who have casual sex and while I would never shame or judge anyone for doing so, I see how it hurts a lot of girls. I just think that perhaps abstinence isn’t necessary, but maybe we should keep sex limited to someone who we fully trust and feel a deeper connection with.

    Woman C: Yes, again this is a religious belief of mine. I believe that sex is something meant for someone you love and if you truly love someone you’re meant to be married. I think that every time you have sex with someone that isn’t your spouse, it makes it less special. Also, the purpose of sex is to have children, and usually if people aren’t married they aren’t having sex with the purpose of starting a family.

 

Do you take any form of birth control?

    

    Woman A: Yes

    Woman B: Yes

    Woman C: No

 

If yes, what kind? (Pill, IUD, implant, etc.)

 

    Woman A: The pill

    Woman B: The pill

 

If no, is there a specific reason why?

 

    Woman C: There’s no specific reason, really. I’ve never needed it for any medical reasons or wanted it.

 

If applicable, at what age did you start taking birth control and for what purpose?

    

    Woman A: I started taking oral contraception when I was seventeen because my skin was flaring up and my period cramps were getting progressively worse, so I wanted to balance my hormones. Even though I wasn’t sexually active when I started taking birth control, I still wanted to be prepared (considering it takes at least three months for the pill to be fully effective) so I was taking it for the purpose of contraception as well.

    Woman B: My doctor diagnosed me with amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) when I was fourteen and I started taking the pill per her recommendation to regulate my hormonal cycle. I had some issues with it so I stopped taking it, but once I was later diagnosed with PCOS I was put back on it at a heavier dosage. So I’ve been on it consistently since I was sixteen. While I now also use it as a contraceptive, its initial purpose (and continued purpose) of helping with my condition is the reason I’m on the pill, specifically, as opposed to some other form like an IUD, for example.

 

What do you understand to be the Catholic stance on contraception?

 

    Woman A: I understand that the Catholic Church doesn’t support contraception because it interferes with ~God’s plan~ by keeping you from getting pregnant.

    Woman B: In high school I talked to my Philosophy teacher who was a very strong Catholic and told her I was on birth control and asked her what the Church thought of that. She told me that for medical reasons it’s permissible since it isn’t being used for sex. I think the Church sees it as the lesser of two evils (the other being abortion). The Church thinks that interrupting God’s timing is sinful (hence their stance on suicide too), so preventing pregnancy is a sin. Treating medical conditions, however, isn’t sinful.

    Woman C: The Catholic Church’s stance on contraception is that it is not allowed with the purpose to prevent having children. However, with birth control specifically, if it is used primarily for a reason other than preventing yourself from getting pregnant (like for a medical reason), then it is allowed.

 

What is your opinion on the University’s policy of not providing artificial contraceptives to undergraduate students except when prescribes to treat a medical condition?

 

    Woman A: Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous that the University wouldn’t provide contraception to people, especially when you don’t have to be Catholic to work here or go to school here. I see that as forcing beliefs on others. Also, I think that with the aggressive pro-life view on campus, not providing birth control is setting students up for having unexpected pregnancies that they’ll want to terminate--and by Catholic standards that’s worse than using contraception.

    Woman B: I think the University is definitely doing something right by providing birth control when it’s medically prescribed. It’s a Catholic university so the school must uphold Catholic values and that shouldn’t be shocking or upsetting to people. I get my birth control in 3 month supplies and pick it up when I’m home and I don’t have an issue with that. It is nice knowing that I’d be able to get it here though since it’s something my body needs. I know people who say, “Well, we’re still gonna have sex!” Yes, that’s fine, but as a Catholic institution who has a 175 year tradition of teaching Catholic values, they should be allowed, and frankly expected, to uphold Catholic values.

    Woman C: I appreciate it. We are a private, Catholic university. Therefore, we can implement Catholic beliefs on campus. If we don’t, then what is the point of calling ourselves a Catholic university?

 

What is your opinion on the new health coverage plan the University instituted as of August, 2018?

 

    Woman A: While I think it’s good that the University has decided to help students financially on this matter, the fact that you still can’t purchase birth control on campus just creates an inconvenience for the students, and doesn’t even succeed in keeping contraceptives off campus. People can just buy them and bring them back.

    Woman B: Again, it’s a private Catholic institution and should be permitted to act as such. No one is saying you can’t have a prescription for the pill, it’s just that you have to get it off campus. That’s just part of the University’s freedom to exercise their religious beliefs that are exempt from mandates by the state. I think they made a good compromise by recognizing that some people rely on the University’s health plan for their prescriptions and covering simple contraceptives. They still object to the termination of pregnancies but provide for those in need. One thing that worries me is that people might abuse the policy by saying the medical reason they need the pill is for acne. I think there are other ways to control acne and using that as an excuse detracts from people with real, life-altering diagnoses.

    Woman C: I like it--it allows us to continue to stay true to our Catholic values while still accommodating for students’ needs. If people need contraceptives that badly, they can go down the street and buy them. Notre Dame had every right to file a lawsuit in order to protect their Catholic beliefs, and I respect the school even more for it.

 

If unhappy with the University’s adapted policy, what potential compromise might you propose to make contraception more available to the student body while still maintaining the Catholic mission on campus?

 

    Woman A: While I still don’t agree with every aspect of the policy, I think it is probably the biggest compromise we can have--anything else would be too restrictive.

    Woman B: I think this is the best compromise. I guess maybe a pharmacy on Eddy Street or a safely walkable distance so people can obtain their prescriptions more easily would satisfy people.  

 

 

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