In light of the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia’s decision to merge with St. Joseph’s University, USciences has announced that it will cease to provide all forms of birth control– including condoms– as of June 1.
This decision was announced via email to students receiving prescribed birth control by Dr. Barbra Siebert, the director of Student Health Services at USciences, on April 18.
“Effective 6/1/2022 Student Health will no longer be permitted to prescribe or dispense birth control pills, any form of birth control, or condoms,” Siebert’s email read. “This is in accordance with the strict Catholic doctrine which they [St. Joseph’s University] abide by strictly.”
Dr. Siebert has declined to comment further on the matter at this time.
The merging of these two private universities was announced on June 9, 2021, pending the completion of all necessary approvals and paperwork. With it, USciences agreed to be absorbed into St. Joseph’s (SJU) while maintaining their accepted and current students’ tuition and schedule for their course of study. However, this move also revokes USciences’ degree-granting power as of Dec. 31 and thus all of their 2023 graduates will receive their diplomas from SJU.
“This bold merger agreement creates new opportunities for our students and strengthens USciences’ commitment to build on our 200-year legacy of excellence in healthcare and science education,” USciences President Paul Katz said in the university’s initial press release. “Saint Joseph’s is the ideal partner for USciences and our community.”
The merging of the two universities was officially approved on March 15 and will take effect on June 1. Both of the universities’ campuses will be retained and Mark Reed, the current president of SJU, will assume the role of president for both institutions.
St. Joseph’s is firm on its Jesuit roots, noting that it prioritizes the “Jesuit education model” and teaches students to find “God in all things.” The religious institution also boasts a 51% female population within the class of 2024.
“That was the majority of the bad feeling,” Donna McKeon, a USciences alumna, said. “That religious doctrine would be enforced on a student body that is: One, not Catholic. Two, chose not to attend a Catholic college on purpose.”
While SJU’s Student Health Center does provide free pregnancy testing and sexually transmitted infection testing for a billed cost, the university “does not provide materials on preventing conception or that encourage termination of pregnancy” due to its values as a Jesuit institution. USciences, however, have provided birth control, sexual health counseling, and STI screening in the past.
“I think it’s unfair and unrealistic,” Virginia Uyehara, a medical-humanities student at USciences, said. “I take birth control just because my menstrual cycle is irregular…I think, in terms of health and safety, it’s unrealistic to assume that college students…will always go for the safest option [abstinence].”
According to a study completed by the American College Health Association, two-thirds of college students report being sexually active within the last year. Additionally, people aged 15-24 have accounted for the majority of STI cases within the U.S.– infections that can be prevented through the use of condoms.
“Sexual health is of the utmost importance for everyone, especially our college-age population,” Kathleen Dolan, a family nurse practitioner at Rowan University, said. “We recommend pregnancy protection. That could mean abstinence…that could mean condom use, always, or there are many types of birth control.”
Rowan University provides various forms of contraception to its students, including their “Free Condom Friday” weekly event and its partnership with FamCare to provide students with prescribed contraception.
“Sexual health is as important as our physical and mental health,” Dolan said. “We all should take our sexual health seriously.”
USciences students will have until May 31 to attend an appointment with the university’s Student Health and Counseling Services (SHAC) in order to request a referral or be prescribed up to a year’s worth of contraceptive pills until they can seek medical care at a different location. From that point on, SHAC will only be available for non-contraceptive healthcare and STI testing, per Siebert’s email.
As of April 18, no other announcement has been made to the USciences student body regarding this change in healthcare practices. Only those who have received prescriptions from SHAC have been notified about its upcoming policy to not provide students with condoms in accordance with SJU beliefs.
“We want to do away with the stigma of sexual health,” Dolan said. “It’s just as important as any other type of health.”
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