Soda, chips, candy … Plan B?
Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania decided to allow students to buy Plan B from on-campus vending machines after surveys showed that 85 percent of students favored the option.
Though the university is facing criticism, Schippensburg is ultimately showing that it cares for its students by creating easier access to an essential contraceptive tool.
Plan B, or any similar emergency contraception, can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex to prevent the implantation of a potentially fertilized egg. The sooner the pill is taken, the better the protection against an unplanned pregnancy.
The vending machines at Shippensburg have been strategically placed in a private room in the university’s health center, away from vending machines supplying snacks, to reduce the potential confusion of someone who wants M&Ms but gets Plan B instead.
Despite the existing avenues for obtaining Plan B, USC should follow in Schippensburg’s steps. These vending machines have the potential to offer an amazing resource for students.
State and federal laws have made emergency contraception more accessible, allowing more women to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Nationwide, emergency contraception is offered without a prescription to anyone over the age of 17, but the buyer must talk to a pharmacist to receive it.
Needing to talk to a pharmacist, however, creates another barrier. Women might be embarrassed about admitting to unprotected sex, and some pharmacists might refuse to sell Plan B on moral grounds. Providing Plan B in vending machines moves toward completely removing barriers to access.
One could argue that if someone is too embarrassed to talk to their pharmacist in order to get Plan B, maybe they should abstain from having sex. Sex is a private matter, however, and not everyone is comfortable talking about the reason why they are seeking Plan B. People should not have to fear judgment from others if they need access to contraceptives.
Many people who oppose Plan B vending machines believe that the easy access downplays the fact that it is a medication, one which requires advice and side effect information from a clinician or pharmacist.
At this point, The Federal Drug Administration commissioner has made a statement supporting the over-the-counter use of Plan B for women 17 and over. The FDA also suggested the drug should be over-the-counter for girls under 17 as well, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rejected that proposal.
Essentially, the FDA says that women and their partners are intelligent enough to figure out how to take one or two pills properly without significant adverse side effects. Shippensburg University also supplies information on the side effects, and physicians are available for consultation.
The side effects of Plan B include period-like symptoms, such as menstrual bleeding, stomach cramps, nausea and changes in consequent menstrual cycles. These are symptoms most women have experience with their regular period. As with any over-the-counter drug, if a woman feels uncomfortable with her symptoms, she should contact her health care provider or pharmacist immediately.
Putting the morning-after pill in vending machines allows students to take personal health into their own hands. We don’t need to coddle college students under the guise of protecting them by restricting access to pregnancy prevention measures.
Administrators should focus on encouraging students to make intelligent decisions; ultimately, though, they should respect students’ ability to make tough personal choices.
Emergency contraception is currently available without a prescription at the pharmacy or from a clinician at the University Park Health Center for $20. The pharmacy is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the health center is open Monday through Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., except Wednesday when it opens at 9:30 a.m. — check hours online for Friday and weekends. The local CVS pharmacy sells Plan B for $54 and the generic for $44.
Natalie Chau, Brooke Sanders and Lucas Griffin are peer health educators of the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion.