Recently it’s been revealed that Shippensburg University, a small college in Pennsylvania, has been dispensing emergency contraception out of a vending machine located in their student health center. While this system isn’t perfect, it is an important (and ingenious) step towards easy, affordable access to contraception for women.
Shippensburg opted to install the vending machine after ensuring each student was 17 or older, the legal age to purchase Plan B. The machine also dispenses items that some may find embarrassing to purchase from a drug store or doctor, such as condoms and pregnancy tests. The university allows any student or parent of students to purchase the items they need discreetly, easily, and at an affordable cost – Plan B only costs $25 per dose.
The idea is brilliant and a creative way to provide reproductive healthcare and encourage safe sex among the student body. When the machine was put in place two years ago, it was quite popular, garnering an 85% approval rating from students. One student, Chantel Carden commented, “I would rather get contraception from campus because it’s right on campus. Many of the nurses and doctors who work in…[the] health center know the students either by name or face. It’s a judgment-free environment, unlike if I were to go to the CVS in town and be looked down upon for my decisions.”
The university’s active concern for their students' well-being and the positive affect this system has had on student’s health is a perfect example of why easy access to birth control and emergency contraception should always be a top priority. Demand for these items will never decrease as long as people remain sexually active. Thus, even small, but constructive actions, such as vending machines, can greatly improve quality of life.
Critics of the vending machine idea claim that some people may misuse or overuse the medications due to lack of understanding of how Plan B works. Additionally, some women who have been raped may choose to go directly to the machine rather than going to a hospital for treatment. First, the misuse of medication can happen at any drug store or doctor’s office, but I agree that there should always be easily accessible sex ed classes available to students. If this idea were to expand to other universities, a strong sex ed program should be added alongside, and freshmen and/or new students should be required to learn about safe sex and the proper use of birth control before being allowed access to the machine. Second, to encourage women to come forward if they have been sexually assaulted, universities should work to create a supportive, non-judgmental atmosphere, provide counseling and on-campus treatment if possible. However, if a woman decides not to report an attack, it is better for her to have the option of purchasing emergency contraception than to have none available at all.
Kudos to Shippensburg for a great idea and hopefully, when all the kinks are worked out, similar machines can be placed across the country. This idea has set a standard that others should strive to meet in order to provide the best possible care for students and to create an environment where there is an active concern for reproductive health.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons