The FDA will allow a Pennsylvania-area college to continue dispensing emergency contraception to its students through a vending machine, just as it has done for the past three years, after a politically-motivated uproar last spring prompted a review of the university’s practices.
Back in February, Shippensburg University landed in the national spotlight for installing what may have been the nation’s first Plan B vending machine — allowing students to receive the morning after pill by inserting $25 dollars into the machine in the nurse’s office, rather than potentially being forced to delay taking the pill by scheduling an appointment. Under FDA guidelines, Plan B is already available to everyone over the age of 17 without a prescription, so the university simply verified their rolls to make sure all of their students were above that age as well.
After controversy over Obamacare’s contraception mandate first erupted last year, fueled by the anti-choice community’s widely perpetrated myth that Plan B induces abortions, emergency contraception became more controversial. But the morning after pill (which is safer than aspirin) simply prevents pregnancy within the first 72 hours after intercourse. And recent investigations into universities’ health policies have suggested that it’s not as accessible as it needs to be on college campuses. Shippensburg installed its vending machine after 85 percent of the student body said they thought Plan B should be available on campus grounds.
And after reviewing Shippensburg’s vending machine — which now requires students to swipe their IDs, an extra step to verify they attend the college and are above 17 years old — FDA officials have concluded there’s nothing wrong with expanding access to birth control in this way. “FDA looked at publicly available information about Shippenburg’s vending program and spoke with university and campus health officials and decided not to take any regulatory actions,” an agency official told Public Opinion.
Dispensing birth control in vending machines helps make contraceptive methods directly available without an adult intermediary, which can make a big difference for the teens and young adults who may be too embarrassed to ask a nurse or a pharmacist about it. Last spring, when Shippensburg’s vending machine first drew public attention, junior Chelsea Wehking told the Associated Press she supports it for exactly that reason. “I think it’s great that the school is giving us this option,” she said, explaining she has “heard some kids say they’d be too embarrassed” to make a trip into the surrounding small town to purchase Plan B.