A student petition to increase access to emergency contraception at American University, seeks a vending machine stocked with the morning-after pill to eliminate the stigma students often feel when seeking sexual health services on campus.
Sophie Macaluso, a junior from the School of Public Affairs, started the petition urging the University to install a vending machine filled with emergency contraception on campus in October. Macaluso said she was inspired to take on this project while serving as a political and political intern at the National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice Maryland during the summer when the state repealed a ban on the sale of over-the-counter drugs in vending machines.
“I was reading different articles about college students across the country who had done similar things and were like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of doable,'” she said. “It’s just one vending machine, and it would greatly increase access.”
Currently, the University offers Plan B to the Student Health Center for $10 and Ella for $30, plus tour fees.
In an email to The Eagle, university spokeswoman Elizabeth Deal affirmed the Student Health Center’s commitment to providing students with sexual health services, but wrote that the administration had no no concrete plans to move forward with Macaluso’s initiative at this time.
“AU is committed to providing a full range of contraceptive services to students, including Plan B, as well as Ella, which is designed for women with higher BMIs. The student health center offered these methods to patients from that they were available at the center,” Deal wrote. “CHS is dedicated to women’s health and offers counseling on methods of contraception, as well as prescriptions for contraceptive medications…Appropriate offices will continue to assess this request, although there are currently no plans to install Plan B vending machines on campus.”
Although Macaluso said the health center is a great option for students who need to get emergency contraception during its opening hours, she thinks having a 24-hour vending machine available to students would increase accessibility.
“The reason for the vending machine is to make it accessible all the time and also to take the third party out of it or take the middleman out of it, take the health center out of it,” Macaluso said. “Not because they’re not great service, just because you don’t have to have a consultation or make an appointment and all those things.”
Macaluso said she would also like to include pregnancy tests in the vending machine.
In the description of his petition, which garnered more than 150 signatures, Macaluso wrote that such a vending machine would also alleviate the common “sense of embarrassment” associated with purchasing sexual health products.
Macaluso reached out to vending machine manufacturer Vengo, who partnered with George Mason University to provide a similar service in 2018. GMU’s vending machine offers the My Way morning-after pill to students from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily for $30.
At local retailers like Target and Walgreens, Plan B is typically sold for $49.99 per pill, according to the petition. Macaluso said the price reduction offered by the distributor will not only help more students access emergency contraception, but it will also promote user privacy.
“Another thing surrounding the price is the concern that [an emergency contraceptive purchase] going to show up on a bank statement or something, but [with Vengo], it just appears like a vending machine buy,” Macaluso said. “It could have been you bought five bags of crisps or something, which is really good because that’s also something that I know a lot of people usually worry about when buying something like that. on a credit or debit card that is connected to someone’s parent account.”
Macaluso worked with the AU Center for Health Promotion and Advocacy on this initiative. Together, they try to overcome the obstacles related to the installation of the vending machine on campus.
Natalie Price, a peer health educator with HPAC, said the biggest hurdle in the process so far has been funding, primarily the costs of buying the vending machine and sourcing its supplies.
“There are inclusive mini-grants that we considered applying for, and HPAC is familiar with these grants,” she said. “We received an inclusive mini-grants package in 2019 for Self-Care Circles, so it would be really great if we could get another one and be able to continue funding this service.”
Price added that location is also an important factor when considering where to place vending machines. She and Macaluso are looking for spaces larger than the HPAC office, accessible to students 24 hours a day and separated from most pedestrians to allow some user privacy, Price said.
Macaluso also met with Food and Auxiliary Services in December to discuss logistical details about what the University would need to do to add products to open a new vending machine or add products to an existing one.
In a follow-up to The Eagle, Macaluso wrote that she plans to meet with university health officials to discuss additional options to increase accessibility to contraception on campus, including removing the copay. plan B at the health center and allowing students to access emergency contraception. without an appointment.
According to Macaluso, the desire to create a gender-equitable and supportive environment for all students drives this work.
“You can go home to a state or a family that isn’t very happy or excited about emergency contraception or reproductive justice,” Macaluso said. “So it’s really important to have something on campus that’s assertive and easy to get and has no barriers or opportunities for discouragement or embarrassment to get to it.”