Belly Up to the Bar: Pregnancy Tests, Vending Machines, and Access to Contraception


Women’s private and public spheres converged in the bathroom of a bar in Mankato, MN with the recent installation of a pregnancy test vending machine. Jody Allen Crowe, founder of the nonprofit Healthy Brains for Children, installed the first vending machine of its kind at Pub 500 on July 17 in an effort to reduce prenatal exposure to alcohol.

Two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a survey showing that one in 13 pregnant women reported consuming alcohol. Of the survey participants that reported having consumed alcohol while pregnant, nearly one in five admitted to binge drinking while pregnant.

While some people are skeptical that a bar bathroom is an appropriate location for such a vending machine, my reaction was to question why there are pregnancy test products, but not pregnancy prevention products provided in bar bathroom vending machines. I’m sure most women not planning a pregnancy would prefer to have pregnancy prevention methods made easily accessible to them, rather than skip prevention and head straight to the nerve wracking test.

A Pub 500 patron shared their thoughts on the latest addition at the bar. “It’s putting awareness at the point of consumption. I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before.”

Meeting women where they are—at an accessible point of consumption—is the key to providing better and more innovative family planning services to women, from emergency contraception to pregnancy tests.

Physical access to contraception is still a deal breaking barrier for many women. The Affordable Care Act has finally gone into effect, making financial access to contraceptives possible for most women, and contraceptive service delivery needs to evolve to meet this new and enabled demand for birth control.

Wouldn’t it be great to see emergency contraception, birth control, condoms, and dental dams sold in vending machines alongside pregnancy tests? Innovative service delivery models are already in place—we just need to step up to the plate and advocate for them to be utilized to the benefit of women’s reproductive lives.

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  • jruwaldt

    Well, condoms have been sold in bathrooms for years. It would be nice if EC were sold in vending machines, too, but there’s that infuriating HHS rule, which Sibelius and Obama refused to change. Of course, if you sell it in bars, how many under-seventeens will be buying it?

  • veggietart

    I would love to see EC in bars as well.  After all, as most bars require that you be 21 to enter, nobody under 17 will have access to machines where EC is sold.  Now if they could just do something about the cost…