Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania has made Plan B, the emergency contraceptive known as the “morning-after” pill, available to students via vending machine for $25. Recently, the machines have raised the eyebrows of federal drug regulators, and such easy access to emergency contraception has come into question.
The easy access to Plan B, including the convenience of a vending machine and its affordable price, is precisely its appeal.
By making Plan B accessible via vending machine, we would be getting rid of one of two obstacles. Not only is the process of buying Plan B made easier by the vending machine – one credit card swipe – but it also takes away the need for contact with a pharmacist. This way, individuals who may feel embarrassed by their purchase don’t need the uncomfortable contact, and they are also able to avoid a pharmacist who refuses to sell Plan B on “moral grounds.”
Critics of the vending machines have said that making Plan B so readily available will de-emphasize its status as a medication that requires instructions and comes with potential side effects.
In this scenario, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages; yes, Plan B is a legitimate medication and yes, it has potential side effects. All things considered, though, the dosage of Plan B is simple to understand – two pills smaller than the average Ibuprofen taken 12 hours apart – and the side effects are relatively mild.
What about those radical anti-choicers that may harass students trying to buy the “morning-after” pill?
While this may be a possibility – one that is significantly less likely to take place at CSUN than, say, Tennessee, where regional Planned Parenthoods were stripped of their preventative care funding without warning because of local politicians’ stances on abortion – if someone needs emergency contraception, they’ll grit their teeth and bare it, whether over-the-counter or in a vending machine.
Furthermore, although the machine at Schippensburg is located in a private area of its student health center, the mere presence of the vending machines could work to reduce the stigma some may feel when they need to purchase the morning-after pill. By bringing them into public space, and pushing two sex-positive, reproductively responsible buttons, the purchaser can say, “Shit happens. I need this. What of it?”
Most arguments that would be against the creation of Plan B vending machines would be rooted in the patronizing notion that female-bodied individuals are not intelligent enough to make informed decisions about their own reproductive health.
There is a notion that those who use Plan B would use it in place of regular hormonal birth control. I don’t know who started this rumor, but they’re most surely the same people who think that abortion is a routine form of birth control as well.
Granted, there will always be individuals who misuse over-the-counter drugs (think of the last time you took NyQuil), but for those who need them, hassle-free, affordable access to them is vital. Particularly in the case of Plan B, which is more effective the sooner it is taken.
Also, while $25 can sometimes be a lot to ask of low-income college students, it is significantly less than what it goes for at a pharmacy, where the price can range from anywhere between $50 and $90.