For two years, students at Shippensburg University, a public college in central Pennsylvania have been able to purchase emergency contraception, condoms,and pregnancy tests from a vending machine located in their student health center. Having these items readily available for students at costs below what local pharmacies sell them for increases the chances that students will have safer sex and avoid unwanted pregnancy. For the most part, Shippensburg had a good thing going, but the media attention has caused the FDA to investigate the vending machine, putting students who relied on this service at risk for unintended pregnancy.
I completely support the media and the their ability to give the public a better understanding of everything that happens in the country and around the world. I think it’s sad, however, that a university supporting students’ sexual health has come under such fire for a policy that will help, not hurt, students. The conservative voices in the country have long had a vendetta against emergency contraception, but this “controversy” has caused more moderate and liberal voices to also sound-off on the risks of emergency contraception and warn against the dangers that a vending machine with Plan B could supply.
Emergency contraception does have risks, but so does Tylenol, Alieve, and NyQuil, medicines that college students, and any other adult, can access without restrictions. With multiple doses per container, we trust every adult who uses these medicines to read the instructions to avoid a dangerous overdose or drug complications and most of the time everything works out fine. In the case of emergency contraception, which is basically a high dose of progesterone that block ovulation from occurring (essentially a high dose of the hormones in a birth control pill), we lock it up behind pharmacy bars and are outraged at the idea of giving college students better access to this pill.
This outrage is completely unnecessary. According to Time, the women who are aware of the benefits of using emergency contraception are correctly using it as backup contraception for cases when other contraception fails. Giving college women easier access to emergency contraception, which is more effective the sooner it is taken, is important at reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, which would decrease the number of abortions needed, a goal of both pro and anti choice people.
Shippensburg University, by providing emergency contraception, condoms, and pregnancy tests, was trying to promote safer sex of its students and give them tools to avoid unwanted pregnancy. While they should have paired this access with sexual health education courses or peer counseling, the media backlash against the vending machine is another example of Americans doubting young women’s ability to choose. This doubt continues to threaten young women’s health and increases the chances of unintended pregnancies.