Amidst Birth Control Debate, Should the "Morning After" Pill Be Available in a Vending Machine?

It came as a shock to many when ABC News recently reported that the “morning after” pill has been available in a vending machine to students at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania for about two years.

Coincidentally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently made this an issue, concerned whether a drug typically sold behind a pharmacy counter should be made available in a vending machine. This issue arose around the same time Karen Handel, Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s top executive, resigned over Planned Parenthood’s funding controversy, and GOP candidates attacked President Barack Obama for the recent decision to require religious institutions to provide birth control to employees (he has since reversed).

A woman’s choice to get an abortion and access to birth control apparently aren’t enough for those who are against women’s right to make decisions about her own health and body. Now, opponents of women's rights are now fired up about Plan B emergency contraception. Although it is understandable why making a drug like Plan B available in a vending machine can be worrisome, for students at Shippensburg, this happens to be the most convenient way to obtain the pill. Instead of eliminating access to Plan B, officials should work on ways to prevent students from abusing its availability.

The idea for a Plan B vending machine at Shippensburg came after a campus survey showed 85% of students supported making Plan B more easily available, and as a result, the student government aimed to provide students with ready access to the pill.

Students and university employees can access this vending machine, which also dispenses condoms, decongestants, and pregnancy tests, at the health center on campus. The on-campus health facility is a major accommodation since the school is isolated from major cities, located about 130 miles away from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Plan B is a drug that works best to prevent pregnancy if taken within 24 hours of sexual intercourse. It only makes sense to have the “morning after” pill available for women to take the following morning, since it’s difficult and ridiculous to expect them to go out of their way just to get a hold of the medication. This will put women at the university at a higher risk of getting pregnant. 

Chelsea Wehking, a junior at Shippensburg, said, “I think it’s great that the school is giving us this option. I’ve heard some kids say they’d be too embarrassed to go into town.” The population in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania is about 6,000. I can imagine just how embarrassing it would be to purchase the “morning after” pill in a small town where it is likely that the person right next to you is an acquaintance. This vending machine on campus protects women from much more than pregnancy, it also protects women from social stigma.

It is permissible by federal law for anyone 17 or older to obtain Plan B. School officials checked records and have confirmed that all current students are either that age or older. Only students and university employees can access the health center; everyone entering the building is required to check in at the lobby desk before they can be allowed in. The university isn’t breaking any laws by providing their students access to emergency contraception. They are only facilitating these students with a service majority of them requested.

If Plan B weren’t available, students would be more likely to have unwanted pregnancies and resort to options like abortion or decide to remain pregnant and keep the child. This could in turn have a considerable impact on the dropout rates at the university.

It’s true that making this drug available in a vending machine heightens a risk for abuse and other factors, but the same risk goes for any other medication typically sold in vending machines as well. Instead of trying to eliminate access to Plan B on Shippensburg’s campus altogether, officials can work on establishing pregnancy resource centers to help women be more informed about their options and the risks and side-effects pertaining to Plan B. Perhaps officials can even provide a more secure way to distribute the drug without undermining the benefits of having it readily available to women on campus.

This is just a minor example of the action that is being taken to limit and possibly remove the sexual rights of women in this country. Considering how far women have come to make these rights available, it would be a shame to have them taken away this easily.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons