Photo: Carter Oswood
Drake University students are divided about whether the university should follow in the footsteps of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.
Shippensburg received a lot of scrutiny recently for a vending machine it had unveiled in the student health center more than two years ago. Instead of the typical power bars, Cheetos and packs of gum, the machine is stocked with condoms, pregnancy tests and, more controversially, Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptives.
“It makes it look like they’re promoting a society that relies on drugs and puts a candy-like image on them,” said first-year pre-pharmacy student Megan Friel. “Additionally, students could abuse the privilege of having such easily accessible drugs.”
Drake is not considering adding a machine similar to the one at Shippensburg, a decision met with both praise and criticism from the Drake population.
Friel isn’t alone in thinking the drug shouldn’t be as easily accessible for students and would be better suited for a pharmacy.
“It is not sold in non-pharmacy settings, so I don’t think it should be available in a vending machine,” said Jane DeWitt, associate professor of social and administrative sciences.
Senior Kristina Vann agreed that the drug should not be that easily accessible.
“Students should have to go to a pharmacist to get Plan B because they know more about it, and if there are any health concerns, they can be addressed,” Vann said. “Walgreens and Hy-Vee are both near by, so it’s not out of our reach to go get it off campus.”
Other students think that the drug has no business being on a college campus at all.
“If a university were to install such vending machines, then it actively takes a stance on an issue, which in turn suppresses the views of people against it,” said sophomore law, politics and society major Sumit Sen.
First-year BCMB major Wenel Jais-Cross also said that the school should not get involved in people’s personal lives in that way.
“I think that what people decide to do in their sexual relationships should in no way be related to Drake, so Drake shouldn’t offer the pill,” Jais-Cross said.
Others, however, see the machine more favorably and believe use of the medication should be left up to the discretion of the student in question.
“While I can understand why some may think that such easy access might encourage irresponsible sexual behavior, I would rather that students have access to Plan B than either have unwanted pregnancies or seek abortion later,” said sophomore sociology major Jordan Payne.
First-year journalism major Danielle Klocke said that she also thought having the pill accessible to students could be beneficial.
“I definitely see what they’re trying to accomplish,” said Klocke. “It would make it less uncomfortable for students. There are no awkward questions involved.”
Then, there are students who are split on the issue.
“I think that this will help women be able to get medication they may need in unplanned circumstances,” said sophomore education major Kelly Nelson. “But I’m not sure a vending machine is the right or moral way to dispense it.”
Brittany Michael, sophomore clinical and applied sciences major and certified pharmacy technician at Hy-Vee, said that she sees both sides of the argument.
“I feel like if people have personal views that make it OK for them, then they should have the option because I know a lot of pharmacists won’t dispense it because of their personal views,” Michael said. “I also think it shouldn’t (be available) because it is a chemical, one that people might not know a lot about. It shouldn’t be used as a quick fix.”
While it’s no secret that college students have sex, the vending machine has garnered national attention — it’s even become a punch line on shows such as “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons” and “Tosh.O” — and it has people questioning how accessible the so-called “morning-after” pill should be, especially on a college campus.
But how much more accessible is the medication?
Sherry Sperlich, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland regional director of health services, said that anyone over the age of 17 could purchase the medication over-the-counter at any drug store.
“Nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned; many times because birth control methods fail or are not used properly,” Sperlich said. “Access to preventive services like birth control and emergency contraception is vital for women not ready to become a parent.”
Taking Plan B within 72 hours of unprotected sex, whether it be due to condom failure, rape or forgetting an alternate form of contraception, reduces chances of pregnancy; however, it’s not a foolproof method.
“Emergency contraceptives are not as effective as other birth control methods, including the pill and condoms,” Sperlich said. “It also doesn’t protect against sexual transmitted infections and HIV.”
LuAnn Volkmer, a nurse practitioner in Drake’s student health center, said Plan B is a two-pill dose of contraception with one hormone. The first dose is to be taken within three days of unprotected intercourse and the second dose 12 hours later.
“This is a large dose of one hormone,” Volkmer said. “If the woman is already using combined contraception, such as birth control pills, this would increase their risk of blood clots, high blood pressure and possibly a heart attack.”
While these are legitimate medical concerns, they are very rare in healthy women. Most women will only experience irregular bleeding and bloating.
Sperlich said that there is no medical evidence that supports limiting the number of times a woman may use emergency contraception, but frequent use is not recommended.
Volkmer and Sperlich each stressed that both health center and Planned Parenthood employees are always willing to sit down and talk with women who wonder if they need Plan B.
“Education is key to preventing unplanned pregnancies,” Sperlich said. “Planned Parenthood works with countless students on making safe and healthy decisions. Giving students family planning options and educating them on back-up methods of birth control, such as emergency contraception, is vital to healthy decision making.”