University Students in D.C. Access to Contraceptives during COVID

Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition on Unsplash

By Allesandra Plourde

Multiple universities in the D.C. area have had to adapt to an online learning plan with limited on campus activity. With the onslaught of quarantine guidelines, plenty of obstacles but more specifically on the health front COVID has created an issue for students’ access to contraceptives. Access has become a challenge therefore universities, as well as, student organizations have had to come up with alternate routes of providing contraceptive access. Contraceptives within this article are broadly defined as any form of protection to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

At American University there are a multitude of resources that provide access to contraceptives for students. The Health Promotion and Advocacy Center (HPAC) is a main service that students use. Pre-COVID they provided free internal and external condoms, lube, dental dams and other barrier methods, as well as, contraceptive consultations. Pritma “Mickey” Irizarry the Director of the Health Promotion and Advocacy Center conducts these consultations as she is the staff member most trained on the options.

“If students are interested in learning more about what their options are the pros and cons, the detail and background around choosing a contraceptive that’s fit for their lifestyle; they can schedule a one on one appointment with me and I can kind of walk through their options,” Irizarry said in an interview. “Then I can guide them to where they would access those options. sometimes that’s that can be the Student Health Center, sometimes that might be an off-campus provider like an OBGYN and sometimes that might be more of a community clinic of some kind.”  Irizarry is still conducting these contraceptive consultations virtually but has not had a single one so far. Irizarry said this may not be publicized information therefore students have not reached out yet. HPAC relies heavily on peer educators to educate other students on the services and resources available at the center.

The Student Health Center at American University is still open to students that are in the area during this time. The health center does prescribe birth control to students however they do not offer IUD’s or implants. The student health insurance CareFirst does cover the copays for birth control.

“A common misconception is that the student health plan is accepted by the health center, it’s not,” Irizarry said in an interview. “The student health center does not bill any third-party insurance, even if you have the student health insurance.” This means that all students have to pay the $20 visit fee, regardless of their provider.

The health center also provides Plan B pill to their female students, “you still have to pay for it just like you would at any pharmacy,” Irizarry said in an interview. The $20 visit fee and the $25 for the pill bring the total to around $45 charge, which Irizarry said is cheapest option for students compared to the other pharmacies in the metro area.  

During normal operations the residence halls also have condom dispensers, but with the HPAC office being closed the staff has found it challenging to figure out how to provide those free materials to students.

 “I did work with residential life to provide a bunch of condoms, dental dams and lube to residence living in emergency housing,” Irizarry said in an interview. “We also did it last week for the students that are in The Frequency (off-campus university housing).” So, despite the challenges of online learning HPAC has found ways to provide their students with some form of protection if they are in the immediate D.C. area. The center has thought of the option to mail whatever students need to them, said Irizarry in an interview. They have not seen an immediate need for that yet and “we just have not had the capacity to do at this point,” said Irizarry.

“If students did reach out and say I am in the D.C. or in this place and I don’t have access to condoms and I’d love to get them for free, I would be more than happy to mail them out myself and if we started to notice more request we could systemize it,” Irizarry said in an interview.

Other universities in the D.C. area like Georgetown already have the option of contraceptives such as condoms delivered to their students. This service is only available through Georgetown’s H*yas for Choice.[1] “We provide free emergency contraception,” Elianna Schiffrik said in an interview. Schiffrik is a senior at Georgetown and the President of H*yas for Choice. “It functions as a peer to peer delivery system, so people email the board and request free EC (emergency contraception) and we deliver it to them free of charge.”

They have adapted this emergency contraceptive service for COVID so that students in need can pick up from a board member and at the tableing locations they have currently running.

H*yas for Choice not only provides free contraception but is the only organization on Georgetown’s campus that does. “H*yas for Choice is Georgetown’s unrecognized and unfunded reproductive organization on Georgetown’s campus,” Schiffrik said in an interview. “We are the sole provider of condoms, lube, safer sex supplies and comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health.”

The organization normally tables five days a week on campus during normal operations. Tabling just means they are out providing free contraceptives to students who drop by and ask for donations since they are unfunded by the university. Currently Schiffrik said there are a limited amount of undergraduate student living on campus, but many students living in the neighborhoods around campus. Therefore, they are able to table three days a week at two different locations in the immediate neighborhoods around Georgetown (which are also emergency contraceptive pickup locations.)

“This is a college campus, if there is one thing we know that students are doing its having sex,” Schiffrik said in an interview. So, it was important for the organization to adapt and still be out providing access to materials for students.

During a normal semester Schiffrik said the delivery service averaged one a day “obviously on the weekends it would spike a little,” she said. Now with COVID it has only been about 20 deliveries so far for the semester, “this is a huge reduction, but I still think it certainly justifies having the service available that twenty people have needed it since then,” Schiffrik said in an interview.

Like Georgetown, Catholic University of America also does not provide direct access to contraceptives to any of their students. The Student Health Center at CUA is still open for student visits.

“The school takes a very hard stance on that [birth control],” Regina Brennan said in an interview. Brennan is the President of Catholic University College Democrats. “Our school very closely follows the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church, obviously so its Catholic University, because of that when it comes to birth control you cannot get any on campus.” The school does not provide any other protective barriers for safe sex practices either.

“There is no sexual conversation on campus ever,” Brennan said in an interview. “It is not even sex negative, sex neutral or sex positive it’s just nonexistence and for a lot of people I think it leads to this invalidity of sexual issues.”

[1] The O in “Hoyas” is trademarked therefore ‘H*yas for Choice’ adopted the asterisk to keep the name.

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