Richael O’Hagan, a WYD4All Coalition member representing Advocates for Youth, gives her statement at today’s press conference.
Thank you Marissa. As Marissa said, my name is Richael O’Hagan, and I am from the United States. I am a member of the International Youth Leadership Council at Advocates for Youth, and I am also a student at Georgetown University. Georgetown is the oldest Catholic university in the United States, and as such, greatly respects its Catholic heritage. It stresses the education and well-being of the whole person, and therefore takes the health of its students very seriously, providing a clinic located on campus, free ambulance service and a health education center.
As a Catholic university, Georgetown observes the Vatican’s ban on condoms and other forms of contraception, thereby putting its students in harm’s way. The university does not distribute condoms or other forms of contraception at its Student Health Center, nor does it offer the morning-after pill at its hospital—even for rape victims. When one of my friends went to the Student Health Center with concerns that she was pregnant, they recommended that she go to a clinic several miles away to obtain a birth control prescription because they were not permitted to write a prescription for her themselves. Furthermore, all staff members are prohibited from distributing condoms to students. Students can only distribute condoms in the “free speech” zone of campus.
Georgetown University is located in Washington, DC, which has an HIV prevalence rate of 3.2 percent—seven times higher than that of the United States as a whole. In fact, the District of Columbia’s high HIV prevalence rate qualifies as a generalized epidemic and is greater than the rate in a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this dangerous reality and student pressure to change the university’s policy, school administrators hold firmly to the policy that condoms and other forms of contraception cannot be distributed on campus.
It’s not like students at Georgetown have no need for condoms. By the time they graduate from college, about 70 percent of people are sexually active. Ninety-eight percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control not approved by the church. The ban on condoms just doesn’t reflect the reality of students’ lives. Yet, this policy is followed by many of the other 240 Catholic universities in the United States, putting thousands of students at risk who expect to be cared for by their college in addition to receiving a good education. Those universities who deny their students access to the right to protect themselves from HIV and unintended pregnancy fail to respect their student body as a group of intelligent adults who can make their own decisions.
Also of note, it is not only Catholic students who attend Catholic universities. This diversity is something that Georgetown, like as other Catholic universities, is very proud of. Less than half of Georgetown’s student body is Catholic, and 12 percent of the students identify with no religion. However, the Vatican’s ban on condoms is forced upon its students of other faiths whose religions make no doctrine against the use of contraception, thereby putting them at increased risk of HIV as well.
Until the ban on condoms is reversed, Catholic universities, as well as the Vatican, will fail to show true respect and responsibility for its students, both those who are Catholic and those who are of a different faith, or no faith.