A university in Pennsylvania located in a rural town has recently made national headlines by expanding its students’ access to emergency contraception. Shippensburg University has been offering “Plan B” in their health center via a vending machine. Now this story has blown across the US as people are envisioning children purchasing both gum and birth control with a few quarters.
But actually reading the story brings up some interesting points. The University had conducted a study several years ago asking students about their access to health care on campus. Based on these findings, they installed a vending machine inside the health center on campus that contained condoms, Plan B, and other health-related items. The machine is only available to students after they have presented a student ID and are allowed access to the health center. Plan B is the same emergency contraceptive that is available behind the counter–at most pharmacies, this means it is allowed to be distributed to those with a photo ID who are at least 17 years of age. This form of emergency contraceptive will not cause harm if the individual is already pregnant and is not the same pill as RU-486, aka the “abortion pill.”
Unfortunately, a combination of media and politics has turned this into a huge issue. Now, the president of the university is having members from the FDA and other state and national officials come to the campus to review their policies and procedures.
Many individuals feel that since Plan B is available off campus, there is no need to have it stocked on campus. But what about students who do not have access to a vehicle? The university is located in a small town with no public transportation. What about the limited time frame in which the medicine is effective? Does it not make sense to have it readily available for individuals to access within the first 24 hours, when it is most likely to work?
This is not a soda machine in a cafeteria (which could be a post of its own). It is a machine located inside a locked health center that is only accessible when health care providers are there and when students present ID to even get in the door. In that sense, the machine and the items in it are even less accessible than they would be at a pharmacy. Yet, because of the nature of politics and the political climate of an election year, students are at risk to lose access to a product they might never use, but could have used as needed as a “plan B.”
Deanna Bridge Najera, MPAS, PA-C is a member of the AAPA Health Disparities Work Group.
This article originally appeared on JAAPA