A vending machine that dispenses emergency contraception pills, commonly known as morning-after pills, was installed on a Washington, D.C., university's campus this month after a student-led effort to make the pills more accessible.
The machine is nestled in the basement of one of George Washington University's student centers - a discrete location aimed at making students more comfortable with buying the pills, said students in GWU's Student Association, which spearheaded the initiative. It dispenses the pills for $30 and also includes tampons and Advil.
GWU is the 32nd university she knows of that has an emergency contraception vending machine, said Kelly Cleland, executive director for the American Society for Emergency Contraception.
"Efforts like this vending machine are a really important part of the solution in reducing barriers to reproductive health care access," she said.
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What is emergency contraception?
Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy when taken shortly after sex, Cleland said.
"Emergency contraception is an important part of the reproductive health care continuum," she said. "Particularly now, when abortion rights are being restricted around the country, having access to emergency contraception without barriers is essential."
Last month, the FDA edited packaging labels for the emergency contraceptive pill, Plan B, to clarify that the pills do not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb and do not cause an abortion, according to a statement from the agency. Instead, the pills prevent or delay the release of an egg from the ovaries.
About a quarter of women say they've used emergency contraception pills at some point, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Emergency contraception vending machines on campuses
The idea for the vending machine had been thrown around before but became a priority after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that granted a constitutional right to abortion, said Neharika Rao, a sophomore who helped lead the effort to install the machine.
The university's student health center already stocked emergency contraception but has limited operating hours. Students could also use their campus cards with their dining plans to buy the pills at pharmacies off campus, but the $50 price tag was a deterrent to many students. Transportation can also be a barrier, Rao said.
Rao and Aiza Saeed, a senior, got to work, starting with a survey of about 1,500 students that overwhelmingly supported installing the machine.
"A main goal that we had for this project was to help defeat stigma around contraception and reproductive rights," Rao said.
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Anti-abortion activists slam Plan B
Cleland said many anti-abortion activists have eyed limiting access to contraception, including emergency contraception, for years. After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, she said she worries these efforts may intensify.
"I think we all have to really remain vigilant," she said.
In past decades, states have tried to restrict emergency contraception access by excluding it from Medicaid plans or by allowing pharmacists to refuse to provide contraceptive services, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights.
In a concurring opinion to the one that overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should also review a 1965 decision declaring that married couples have a right to use contraception.
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In December, a Texas federal judge ruled that allowing minors to access free birth control without parental consent at federally funded clinics violated stated law. Meanwhile, Idaho public schools and universities are barred from recommending birth control, including emergency contraception, to students.
"Selling drugs that can end preborn life next to snack foods dehumanizes the people whose lives are on the line and undercuts women, who are told they can't handle career and family, so pick one," Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told USA TODAY in a statement responding to new emergency contraception vending machines.
GWU's Students for Life of America did not immediately respond to a USA TODAY request for comment.
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Cleland said she hopes to see more pharmacies consistently stocking the pills on their shelves rather than requiring customers to ask pharmacists for it. She also wants to expand access in rural areas by having similar vending machines in community centers like bookstores.
At GWU, Saeed said students want to install more vending machines but first, are focusing on applying to grants to subsidize the cost of the pills.
"Our focus now is making emergency contraception more affordable," Saeed said. "There's a lot of work still to do to make sure everybody has access to the emergency contraception they need."
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Contributing: The Associated Press
Contact Christine Fernando at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: George Washington University has Plan B vending machine