Contrary to what campus tour guides may lead parents to believe, college students do in fact have sex. Because of this unsurprising truth, it’s extremely important for colleges to ensure that they provide students, especially women, with adequate resources to help prevent unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. In the event a woman finds herself unfortunately in need of Plan B, an oral contraceptive that can be taken after sex, colleges such as Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania provide a much needed and appreciated service: selling the emergency contraceptive in a vending machine located inside the school’s health clinic. Even if it helps a minority of students, removing the embarrassment or negative stigma that surrounds obtaining emergency contraception is a valuable cause.
Shippensburg has been selling Plan B along with decongestants, condoms and pregnancy tests for two years in a vending machine inside the school’s health center. Recently, the vending machine has attracted national media attention as critics expressed concern that individuals under the age of 17 might be purchasing Plan B in violation of a recent Obama administration decision requiring prescriptions for young adults to buy the pill. People who enter the health clinic must sign in to ensure they’re a student, and Shippensburg says all its students meet the age requirement. Shippensburg has decided to keep the machine for the time being, but has invited the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate.
There’s a certain stigma attached to buying Plan B — the necessity of emergency contraception is viewed by some as irresponsible or negligent. However, the need for using Plan B isn’t always within a woman’s control. If contraceptives fail or a woman is forced into sex, she is unfairly left with the burden, and possibly shame, of an unwanted pregnancy. In such instances, access to Plan B can be important to preserve the woman’s mental and physical health. Providing this contraceptive in a vending machine in a more private setting lessens the interactions necessary to obtain it. This simple fact could be a deciding factor for a woman to obtain Plan B.
The vending machine also sells Plan B at a cheaper price than most pharmacies. Set at the cost that the university pays to the pharmaceutical company, Plan B is offered for $25. At the University of Michigan’s University Health Services, it costs $40. Arguments that cheaper prices will encourage youth to have unprotected sex are irrational. Instead, it makes it more economical if a woman requires emergency contraceptives.
While vending machines may have a casual and unprofessional connotation, perhaps a reason for the sudden media attention, a vending machine placed in a university’s health clinic is appropriate. It provides privacy that many women desire when dealing with matters of reproductive health. The vending machine has been in place for two years with generally favorable reception. Eight-five percent of Shippensburg students support this idea according to a university-wide survey. Shippensburg should be commended for listening to its students and subsequently providing Plan B in a convenient and safe manner. If this is a service that students desire and use responsibly, Shippensburg should continue providing it.
Having to take Plan B isn’t the ideal situation. For many women, it’s embarrassing, costly and, most importantly, a last resort. In a time when women are already in a stressful situation, any option that makes this process easier should be explored by all colleges. If this vending machine makes the decision to obtain emergency contraception less stressful for just one woman, it serves a critical purpose.