University vending machine dispenses Plan B

By Emily Fasold

Waiting in line to purchase the “morning after pill” at pharmacies and Planned Parenthood locations is an activity that has traditionally been shrouded in shame and embarrassment for some college students. But thanks to a new Plan B vending machine at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, the ordeal has become more discrete.

The machine, which dispenses the pill for $25, was installed after a student survey revealed overwhelming support for the idea. Eighty-five percent of students said it would be beneficial, according to Peter Gigliotti, Shippenburg’s executive director for communications and marketing.

Despite student support, the machine has sparked a national debate about how accessible emergency contraception should be on campuses.

“Many are concerned that the vending machine makes Plan B available without what they consider to be necessary sharing of information prior to purchase,” said Shippensburg President Bill Ruud in a statement last week. “But our students have the opportunity to discuss [the pill] with our dedicated medical staff.”

The vending machine is located in a private room of the university’s Student Health Center. Students must sign in at a check-in desk prior to entry. The room is only accessible to students older than 17, the legal age to purchase the pill without a prescription, Ruud said.

Compared to the rest of the nation and even Columbia, Shippensburg, which has approximately 8,300 students, has liberal contraceptive policies.

Columbia’s Student Health Center currently offers both male and female condoms to students but does not plan to provide Plan B or any hormonal contraceptives in the future, said Beverly Anderson, assistant dean of Columbia’s Student Health and Support.

Anderson declined to comment on why Columbia does not offer Plan B to students, but Columbia students have varied opinions about the vending machines.

The idea of a Plan B vending machine does not sit well with Kit Caogas, 20, a junior art and design major at Columbia. She does not believe that the pill belongs next to soda and chips in Columbia’s vending machines.

“I don’t think that it’s a good idea because the pill can’t be regulated in a vending machine as well as it can at pharmacies and health clinics,” Caogas said. “The pill has strong hormones and can cause bad side effects, so I don’t think it should be dispensed so liberally.”

On the contrary, Jay Babii, 20, a sophmore radio major, thinks that the vending machine would be a positive addition to the school.

“I think its a wonderful idea,” Babii said. “Young women should have easy access to emergency contraception.”

According to the Planned Parenthood website, Plan B can be used to prevent pregnancy for up to five days after unprotected sex, but it will not work on women who are already pregnant. The pill works by temporarily preventing a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs into the uterus.

The Food and Drug Administration has determined the pill to be safe for women older than 17, although cramping, light bleeding and other mild side effects have been reported.

Because of controversy surrounding the vending machine, Shippensburg has invited FDA officials to review its dispensing practices later this month.

“The question about the dispensing method is a valid one, and we will evaluate it through further campus discussions,” Ruud said. “We appreciate all the comments, the concerns, and yes, even the criticisms as we do our best for our students.”