Plan B Vending Machine Survives Anti-choice Misinformation Campaign
A little more than a year ago, during the same week that the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced that it would no longer provide funds to Planned Parenthood, Shippensburg University, a previously little-known state college in Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley, captured media attention throughout the United States. The sudden spotlight on Shippensburg came as a result of a decision administrators had made five semesters earlier -- at the end of the fall 2009 term -- to sell Plan B Emergency Contraception (EC) from a vending machine located in a remote corner of the campus.
According to Dr. Peter M. Gigliotti, Executive Director for University Communications and Marketing at Shippensburg, roughly 300 students a year had swiped their college IDs to obtain access to the machine in the two-and-a-half years it had been operating. Each was given an opportunity to confer with a counselor in person or by phone before inserting $25 to obtain Levonorgestrel, AKA Plan B, a medication that prevents fertilization, preventing pregnancy if taken with 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.
Gigliotti believes that someone on campus -- he does not know if it was a disgruntled student, faculty member, or staff person -- tipped off the press that Shippensburg had a Plan B vending machine and within hours the story was garnering headlines and energizing anti-choice and abstinence-only advocates across the country. "What we did by making Plan B available in a vending machine is very emotional for a lot of people," he begins. "When the story broke we immediately received more than 1000 calls and emails. Right away it became clear to us that people were confused about what Plan B is and how it works. The largest number of contacts came from people who oppose Plan B on a moral or religious basis and they did not want to listen to facts. In their minds Plan B is an abortion and no amount of scientific information will change their minds. They told us that we were killing babies and were all going to go to Hell."
In addition, impassioned callers berated college administrators, arguing that they were kowtowing to the demands of a misinformed student body, 85 percent of whom had previously indicated -- through a 2008 student survey -- that they wanted on-campus access to the drug. "My 'favorite' email asked us if we would give dynamite to our students if 85 percent of them wanted it," he laughs. "It was absurd. What they failed to recognize is that Plan B is legal and available in most pharmacies, without a prescription, to anyone who is over the age of 17."
That said, Gigliotti notes that there are no 24-hour pharmacies in the town of Shippensburg, so having a vending machine on campus allows immediate access to the time-sensitive medication -- access that students might otherwise not have. And Shippensburg is far from the only college offering Plan B to students. Gigliotti says that Emergency Contraception is offered on all 14 of the state's public university campuses. What's more, while Shippensburg is the only school utilizing a vending machine, student health services on most U.S. campuses provide the drug to all who request it.