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Contraceptives available for medical needs

Jenn Metz | Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Notre Dame students cannot receive birth control prescriptions or pills at Health Services unless they demonstrate a medical – not contraceptive – need for the medication.

If a student comes in asking for birth control for the purpose of contraception, “we’re not going to ask a lot of questions,” said Ann Kleva, director of University Health Services.

“We’ll say point blank, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t supply those services on campus because we abide by the teachings of the Church,'” she said. “We’re not here to judge anybody. That’s one avenue, one medical practice that we just do not participate in.”

Health Services does not refer students to places off campus where birth control can be obtained. Kleva said it’s very unlikely a student would not be able to find out the name of a location online, from friends or in a phonebook.

“If they’re definite that’s what they want, I’m sure they’ll find a provider on their own,” she said.

If a student has certain medical symptoms, however, birth control pills can be prescribed and provided at Health Services, Kleva said. Such scenarios include patients with irregular or painful menstrual cycles, no menstrual cycle or abdominal pain.

In these cases, physicians “can and will prescribe birth control after a complete exam and evaluation if there is justifiable reason,” she said.

During such an exam, physicians will rule out other abnormalities that could be causing abdominal pain, which could range from “a hot appendix to an ovarian pregnancy,” she said.

The hormones necessary to regulate cycles could be packaged in birth control, which Kleva said is “very effective” for that purpose.

Whether the patient on birth control has or will have sex is a conversation that may happen between the doctor and a patient, Kleva said. Questions about sexual activity, like those about the patient’s menstrual cycle, are “normal questions to ask a female” during an exam to rule out pregnancy, she said.

Also, Health Services will fill prescriptions for birth control from home physicians if a patient brings in paperwork, she said, but the reason for the prescription has to be given.

“We need a letter from the doctor’s office faxed to us directly telling us why it was prescribed if in fact it was prescribed for non-contraceptive purposes,” Kleva said.

Prescriptions for birth control and other medications can also be transferred from the home pharmacist to the pharmacist at Health Services, Kleva said. Only government-regulated medications, like narcotics, cannot cross state borders, she said.

While Health Services does not direct students to sources to find birth control, patients will be directed to counseling services, Campus Ministry or Gender Relations Center if they have other questions, she said.

“If they need help with a relationship situation, [we] will show them where to get counseling,” Kleva said.

Notre Dame’s practices in the prescription of birth control are similar to those at other Catholic institutions.

Elaine Whetzel, administrator of the Health Center at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said birth control is provided if it is “medically necessary.”

“If the doctor orders the prescription, it is for medical conditions only,” she said.

Unlike at Notre Dame, the Health Center at Georgetown does not fill prescriptions from outside physicians.

The Boston College Web site states its health services does not “provide materials for the purpose of preventing conception” because of “the moral values that Boston College espouses.” The director and administrators of Health Services at Boston College did not return Observer inquiries by the time of publication.

Pregnancy

At Notre Dame’s Health Services, the staff is concerned primarily with supporting and protecting life, Kleva said.

If a woman becomes pregnant on campus, “we want to be supportive and offer care and guidance,” she said.

“Sometimes that’s a misperception. We are not here to judge,” Kleva said.

She said both Health Services and the Office of Student Affairs offer support for pregnant women if they decide to stay on campus.

“In the half dozen cases I’ve dealt with over the years, the girls have graduated on time,” Kleva said. “They can’t live in the dorms, but there is family housing available. You’ll find that the whole dorm will become babysitters.”

Health Services offers free pregnancy tests that can be given during an appointment or taken home anonymously, Kleva said.

“We offer guidance and education,” she said. “You have to look at how we all address the issues. […] We certainly don’t want a woman to feel ostracized. We will do anything to protect these women.”

Gynecological care

There are four physicians, two male and two female, at Health Services that are “board certified, all capable of performing [gynecological] exams on campus,” Kleva said.

Patients requesting gynecological care can specify if they prefer a male or female physician, she said.

Health Services does not offer formal classes about sexually transmitted infections, but doctors are available to provide education and counseling on the topic, Kleva said.

Health Services also provides a nationally circulated brochure from the American College Health Association about symptoms and treatment options for various sexually transmitted infections.

“The first sentence says the only true way to prevent the spread of these infections is to abstain from risky behavior,” she said.

Health Services keeps in stock Gardisil, the vaccine for human papillomavirus, commonly referred to as HPV. The vaccine is administered in a series of three injections over six months and may help guard against cervical cancer.