The Plan B vending machine debate: ASPC considers making emergency contraception more accessible

PRO By Rosemary McClure ‘13 Editor-In-Chief

While the installation of any vending machine on a college campus is obviously a decision of earth-shattering importance, much of the controversy surrounding hypothetical (at this point) Plan B vending machines at Pomona amounts to antifeminist policing of female sexuality cloaked in paternalistic concern-trolling.

The most common argument against vending machines that dispense emergency contraception is that women will start using Plan B … like … a lot! (It’s always a vague amount like “too much.”) It is true that doctors recommend against the repeated use of Plan B. The whole point is that it’s a backup method. However, research shows that repeat use of emergency contraception in the same calendar year is rare, occurring at a rate of around 7% of users studied.

Furthermore, if it was really Plan B’s effectiveness that was so worrying to the opposition, they would be emphasizing the importance of making it available around the clock: the sooner you take it after a broken condom or unprotected sex, the more effective it is. Because the nearest 24-hour pharmacy is nearly three miles from campus and the student health center is not open on nights or weekends, I think the vending machines fill a void in the medicine’s availability.

Another common argument I hear opposing Plan B vending machines expresses concern that women might begin to rely on Plan B as their primary method of birth control. I do not think this is a valid concern. First of all, if you’re worried people might rely too heavily on Plan B simply because it’s widely available, maybe you should focus on making other forms of contraception (and comprehensive sex ed) more accessible. Secondly, putting Plan B in a vending machine does not constitute a school-sanctioned contraception free-for-all. At $20 a pop, the cost alone would likely prevent “Plan B being used as ‘Plan A’”—a phrase anti-choicers manage to use in every sound bite pertaining to emergency contraception (it’s actually impressive). I’m just saying: I pass machines that dispense Diet Coke at least twice a day in the dining halls, and I don’t drink it. Ever. Because it’s bad for my health.

In January, Fox News ran a sensationalist article opposing the installation of Plan B vending machines at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. The article, called “Plan B vending machines: Irresponsible and just crazy,” was written by a doctor touting the supposedly grave side effects of emergency contraception.

Side effects include, according to Dr. Manny Alvarez: “mid-cycle spotting, irregular bleeding, hives, swelling of the face and lips – and for some” [pause for drama], “even nausea and diarrhea.” Hmm, those sound suspiciously like the side effects I experience after consuming dining hall breakfast sausage. And compared to the side effects of pregnancy—oh, sorry, did you forget what they were? Allow me to refresh your memory: vomiting and nausea, gas and bloating, bleeding gums, constipation, hemorrhoids, itchy skin, nosebleeds, yeast infections, mood swings, back pain, dizziness and fainting, gestational diabetes, hair loss, incontinence, anemia, and increased lifetime risk of Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis. Also: a fucking baby. I’LL TAKE THE HIVES AND DIARRHEA, THANKS!

A troubling implication of all these arguments is that women are just too stupid to use Plan B as it is directed. This is a condescending and antifeminist belief. The subtext of the anti-vending machine arguments is the same tired logic used to argue against the very existence of emergency contraception, not to mention oral contraceptives and abortion.

If you are a woman who has found herself expressing concern that “other women might” use Plan B irresponsibly, I must ask: if (or when) these vending machines become available, are YOU going to use them as your first line of defense against pregnancy? No, and neither are the “other women.”

 

CON

By Juliana Beall ‘16 Staff Writer

Recently there has been talk about installing a Plan B vending machine on Pomona’s campus. Keeping in mind that Pomona students already have relatively easy access to the medication, in my opinion adding these ‘Plan B’ vending machines on campus will only add an unnecessary causality to taking a serious and potent drug. The casualty may shift the role of ‘Plan B’ to a ‘Plan A’ in the minds of students. This will inevitably promote misuse of the drug, unprotected sex, and the spreading STDs.

Both the makers of Plan B and physicians warn users of the strength and possible side effects of the pill. The Plan B information guide online clearly states that Plan B should not be used as a regular birth control method and many researchers have speculated that repeated use of Plan B decreases the effectiveness of the pill. The list of side effects is extensive. The pill contains more hormones that any one prescription-based birth control pill does and is not allowed to be sold to people under 17. The creators of Plan B and physicians are clear that Plan B should not be used as a Plan A.

The first Plan B vending machine was installed on the Shippensburg University campus, nestled in the small, 6,000-person town in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania in 2010. Much of the basis for Plan B being sold in vending machines was the lack of pharmaceutical accessibility for students.

However, Plan B is already available on Pomona’s campus at the student health center. An appointment and face-to-face consultation is needed in order to make the purchase, which bothers many students. Students in favor of a Plan B vending machine distributor complain that this consultation can be inconvenient to schedule or even humiliating. But if the student is practicing safe sex on a regular basis this appointment system should pose minimum burden on the student’s schedule. And if there is something obstructive in the student’s schedule that somehow takes precedent over preventing a possible pregnancy, there are pharmacies within 10 minutes walking distance of campus that require no appointment.

As for the embarrassment issue, the use of Plan B has always been encouraged as an emergency situation medication. Taking the pill is, in my mind, a noteworthy enough scenario that perhaps merits face-to-face confrontation. There are several embarrassing medical situations that require the presence of a physician or a pharmacist, and the humiliating aspect does not mean we should simply remove this middleman. For example, buying birth control requires a prescription, which may present a frustratingly difficult and embarrassing situation for many young women.

I would not say that we would be moving forward with women’s rights by providing birth control at the over-the-counter level of availability. We are simply taking the same necessary health precautions that we would with any other drug of that potency.

Do not get me wrong; I firmly believe that Plan B should be readily available to women of all ages, backgrounds, and locations. I simply believe that its availability today, more specifically in the context of the city of Claremont and the campuses, is appropriate. Plan B has prevented numerous unwanted pregnancies and given women greater empowerment over their bodies.

However, I think that with the abundance of 24 hour pharmacies in Claremont, once we have reached the over-the-counter level of access, moving a step forward in availability and convenience is not necessarily also moving a step forward in women’s rights and women’s health.

On a college campus where there is already relatively easy access to Plan B, selling the pill in vending machines will only add an oversimplified, casual aspect to taking the drug that will no doubt decrease the perceived necessity of condoms. If wearing condoms become less of a priority there will almost certainly be an increase in unsafe sex and the spread of STD’s.

Overall, the big difference between Plan B being sold in vending machines and Plan B being sold over the counter is convenience. And I am not sure if convenience is something that should be promoted when its presence is perhaps encouraging people to overlook the dangers of unprotected sex.