Beginning in the 2013-14 academic year, all that a student on Penn’s campus needs to do to get free condoms is “just ask” the cashier at Student Health Service. This program was designed to eliminate "barriers to students practicing safe sex." However, if Penn truly wants to commit to helping students have safe sex, it has a responsibility to be more informative and helpful when it comes to birth control.
Nationally, it has become more difficult to obtain affordable birth control through one’s employer. In 2017, the Trump administration significantly widened the range of stipulations under which employers could invoke religious or moral beliefs to avoid the Affordable Care Act requirement that birth control pills or other forms of contraception be covered by insurance as an aspect of preventive care. Some 60% of women of reproductive age, aged 15-44, are using some form of birth control, which is 60% of nearly 61 million women in this country alone. Institutions like our federal government and college administrations should not be making it more difficult for this enormous number of people to access care.
On the SHS website, under the “Contraceptive Options” subheading, not only do multiple links not work — most notably the one that is meant to direct students to information about emergency contraception — but the information that is listed is confusing at best. Additionally, the link that is meant to direct students to make appointments for gynecologic care also does not work. Both times I tried, I was directed to blank pages. This is unacceptable.
SHS provides three options for contraception: combined oral contraceptives, Depo-Provera injections, and external and internal condoms. While SHS does list failure rates of other kinds of contraceptive options, they have no information about what those options are or how to use them.
Confused about my options and without enough information, I looked outside of Penn’s campus when my doctor advised I start birth control. As someone with a complicated menstrual history, I’ve done my fair share of googling symptoms and contraceptive options and weighing the costs. I’ve been placed on three different birth control pills, all of which gave me intense side effects without actually regulating my period. This year I decided for the sake of my sanity to get an IUD, an intrauterine device, and have been navigating its side effects and acclimation to my body without help, or any listed information, from SHS.
Contraception shouldn’t be controversial. It is often a necessary medical decision that students shouldn’t be left to figure out alone. We need accessible, stigma-free birth control. This also applies to those women who use birth control for reasons other than as a preventive contraceptive. Albeit true, and true to my personal case, women shouldn’t have to be using birth control to manage symptoms and their health in order for their use of it to be valid. Women have sex. Women need birth control. No reason for needing birth control is better than another. No matter the reason for needing birth control, Penn has a responsibility to provide its students with better information and more accessible appointments.
Our health can’t wait. I clicked one of the links on SHS’s website, wanting to find out what kind of external website they were directing students towards to get more information. The first link did not even function. Is that how much women’s health is worth to Penn? A broken link and an assurance that someone else can help?
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College junior from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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