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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Mattise Wood: My university refused birth control now others across the country could do the same

By Mattise Wood

This May, I graduated from college. The Catholic university I went to provided me my degrees, but when I needed birth control – something just as important for my future – I was on my own. For me and for a lot of women who go to religious universities, this is a common experience. And after this week’s Supreme Court decision in Trump v. Pennsylvania, my experience could become even more common.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that universities and employers can deny students and employees health insurance coverage that would allow them to get birth control. This means that if the people in charge of a university or company have a “moral” or religious objection to birth control, they can exclude it from the health insurance offered to students and employees.

When I began college, I learned quickly I was accident-prone – I got to know the campus health center staff really well. I figured when it became hard for me to get back to my usual provider, it just made sense for me to ask campus health about birth control. The staff shrugged me off, saying, “That’s not really our specialty.”

Birth control is essential health care – no matter your university or employer. Nearly 9 in 10 women will use it in their lifetimes. It’s crucial for the success of students – the ability to get on the pill before age 21 is the most influential factor enabling women already in college to stay there. For some people, it’s the medicine they need to treat endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and other ovarian conditions. It’s how many people manage painful or irregular periods. Birth control is a vital part of our lives. During the public health and economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for access to birth control and family planning is more urgent than ever.

Yet no other kind of health care is subject to the whims of your boss or your college administration. Sexual and reproductive health care – including birth control – has been the target of political attacks for 150 years. Policies like my university’s and the Trump administration’s are part of a long history going back to the Comstock laws – when the state dictated what was “moral” in people’s personal lives and made disseminating birth control a federal offense. We should not be bringing back ideologies from 1873.

At my university, it went beyond birth control. The health center there would not any forms of provide birth control, STI tests, or other sexual and reproductive health advice or care. Not even when I was sexually assaulted and reached out to the campus health center for help – no birth control, no STI testing, not even advice – nothing. I even asked if they knew where the closest Planned Parenthood was, I was told to use my own resources to find out. Thankfully, I have access of the internet and the means to travel, which allowed me to become a recurring and grateful patient of the Planned Parenthood closest to my school.

But not everyone has the resources to figure out how to get health care. Health insurance is confusing, too, especially when you’re a young person navigating it for the first time. I was lucky to have a Planned Parenthood health center near campus. I continued to go there for sexual and reproductive health care throughout the rest of my time in college. I even got a Pap smear there when my campus health center, of course, refused to provide it. The access and affordability of the reproductive care I received is something held out of reach of so many people – including my mother. My mom was an employee at GU for 17 years and was denied the all-encompassing health coverage as well, leading her to not having the opportunities throughout her career to get reproductive health care that she – and all people – deserve.

Getting birth control should be easy, yet the Supreme Court is letting the Trump administration’s rule affect not just other students like me, but women, families and LGBTQ+ people whose employers have their own moral or religious objections to others accessing this care.

I’m afraid for them. I’m afraid for other students who need birth control to focus on their classes and prepare for their futures. I’m afraid for myself, a recent college graduate looking for a job. Will my future employer provide health insurance that covers birth control? I believe everyone should be able to get the care they need, including birth control, and that’s why we should be working to make it easier to access.

Mattise Wood (she/her/hers) recently graduated from Gonzaga University with degrees in biology, women and gender studies, and leadership.