The disparity of emergency contraception provision across Oxford colleges has been scrutinised this wee
k as OUSU Council debated a motion on the topic.
The motion, proposed by the VP for Welfare, Dani Quinn and seconded by the VP for Women, Kat Wall, focuses on the inequality of sexual health and family planning services across Oxford colleges. They are seeking a minimum standard of sexual health provision and for CR Presidents and Welfare Officers to lobby their colleges for this minimum standard.
One specific inequality which is raised in the motion is the access to emergency contraception in different colleges. OUSU carried out a survey which has revealed that only twelve out of the twenty one colleges that have so far responded provide emergency contraception from the college nurse.
Dani Quinn stated that the motion had been prompted by Kat Wall’s election manifesto, where she had promised that she would “start a campaign to get a central sexual health clinic. Provision in Oxford is sparse and this is often deeply unhelpful to many students who require contraceptives, medical advice or support.” However, she has had to accept the political reality that the funding simply isn’t there for this. Instead, Wall and Quinn are seeking a “mandate to ensure high levels of provision, and to prevent there being a lottery for female students.” Quinn also focused on the welfare role that the college nurse can play, giving female students advice and monitoring those who repeatedly need emergency contraception.
The lack of college-based provision can be a problem for women as many have had negative experiences when attempting to purchase the morning after pill from shops in Oxford. Students have reported being quizzed in intimate detail in shops, with chemists “openly and publicly” asking who they were sleeping with and what contraception they were using. Two shops on Cornmarket were singled out for particular complaints.
Some colleges, such as Magdalen, will provide reimbursement if students have to buy emergency contraception on a Sunday, but the college nurse does not provide it. Laurence Mills, Magdalen JCR President, defended the college’s policy, stating, “Whilst I firmly believe that students should be able to get the morning after pill if necessary, and for free, asking the college nurse to provide this is not needed.” Mills said that the provision of emergency contraception from the college nurse was not an urgent issue in Magdalen because there had been no pressure from students to change the policy.
However, this view is not shared by the JCR Women’s Officer at Balliol, Signy Allen.
Balliol a different policy; the nurse will provide morning after pill but the JCR will not reimburse students for it. There is currently a move in the Balliol JCR to change this. Allen stated that she felt it was a priority because “members of Balliol JCR recognise that unwanted pregnancy concerns men as well as women, so while this is strictly speaking a question of women’s health, it’s clearly an important welfare issue for the entire JCR.”
Among the colleges that have a nurse who will provide emergency contraception was St Hilda’s. The JCR President, Jesse Harber, said, “We in the JCR are determined not just to provide whatever a student needs to guarantee their welfare – including emergency contraception – but to provide it nondirectionally, to let students make their own decisions about what they need and to support them with whatever they want to do.”
These views are echoed by Amelia Thompson, St John’s Women’s Welfare Officer, who says “The JCR have reimbursed for the morning after pill since I took over as women’s welfare officer at the beginning of Hilary.” She says that provision of emergency contraception was brought up when she was being elected and so she then introduced a motion at the JCR to allow students to be refunded if they had bought the morning after pill. The college nurse at St John’s will also provide the morning after pill on request.
Views among students suggest that many support the OUSU motion. First year English student Ashleigh Wheeler’s views reflected those of many female students when she stated that she felt the college should supply emergency contraception, and that the university as a whole should have a uniform policy. “College is a safe place to live, and that safety should extend to having a nurse that you can go to whenever you need her.”