Can Vending Machines Fix Emergency Contraception Access on Campus?

Obtaining an abortion is already a difficult process for many people due to finances, clinic distances, waiting periods and gestational limits, and that situation will likely get worse — especially if the Supreme Court chooses to revisit and potentially reverse Roe v. Wade, allowing states to make the procedure completely illegal. With that possibility on the horizon, public health officials are exploring a number of innovative ways to prevent unplanned pregnancies through greater access to birth control and emergency contraception.

The newest campaign? Offering emergency contraception through public vending machines. But will this really make pregnancy prevention more accessible, or is it just a band-aid over a bullet wound?

Vending machines offering Plan B recently debuted on some college and university campuses throughout the U.S., with Barnard College and Columbia University in New York as some of the latest higher education institutions to follow the trend. Health advocates hope that the ability to obtain emergency contraception in a local dorm — regardless of the time of day or day of the week — will make for a better option after unprotected sex than having to rely on a student health center that may not be open or a drugstore that may be too far off campus.

The ability to have immediate access to emergency contraception is critical. Because Plan B and other emergency contraceptives work to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation until after sperm is no longer likely to remain active, the medication needs to be taken within three days of sex to be effective — and the sooner, the better. If a student health center is closed on a weekend or school break, a student could be at serious risk of an unwanted pregnancy.

Vending machines also offer a level of privacy that a student wouldn’t otherwise have. Because the medications are stocked alongside other health supplies — from condoms to menstrual products — a person can discretely purchase the medication without anyone else being involved in the exchange.

The anonymity of the process means that a student also doesn’t have to worry about a refusal from a store employee who might object to selling emergency contraception — especially to someone who might look like they are still a minor, or to someone who is either male or doesn’t present as female. While there is no age limit for purchasing emergency contraception, some clerks still refuse to sell to someone under 18.

Despite the benefits, though, emergency contraception in vending machines also has serious drawbacks. Medication that can often be obtained for free through health centers both on and off campus with student insurance coverage now has a price tag attached, which always increases the burden of access. Machines can also break down or run out and require refills, something that students don’t need to worry about when they go to a clinic or center.

And then, of course, there are the inevitable attacks from abortion opponents who mistakenly believe that emergency contraception is actually a method of abortion, rather than pregnancy prevention. These individuals are looking for ways to stop the vending machines from offering any emergency contraception whatsoever. Considering the existing efforts undertaken to harass patients at health care centers that offer birth control and emergency contraception, who knows what sort of targets they will make out of these public sites for reproductive care.

There’s little doubt that emergency contraception needs to be available widely on college campuses — and if vending machines are able to both fill that need, while allowing more students to access the medication privately and quickly, that’s obviously progress. But to truly work, we also need to make the medication inside the machines free — just like those in the student centers — and ensure that there are plans in place both to keep the stock fresh and ample, and to stop anyone who might try to interfere with a student trying to purchase it.

Only then will vending machines have a truly measurable impact on preventing unwanted pregnancies on campus.

Photo credit: Robin Marty


Frances G
Frances G21 days ago


Mia B
Mia B26 days ago

Thank you

Sophie A
Sophie A1 months ago

thank you for sharing

Amanda M
Amanda M1 months ago

Bravo to these colleges for providing emergency contraception in the vending machines! Women need access to ALL reproductive options, and emergency contraception access does wonder for preventing unwanted pregnancies and therefore reducing the number of abortions-WHY the anti-choicers can't see that continues to drive me bonkers!

Clare O'Beara
Clare O2 months ago

sad world we live in today

Clare O'Beara
Clare O2 months ago

The writer does not know the difference between discretely - separate from - and discreetly - tactfully or without drawing attention.

Roberto MARINI
Roberto MARINI2 months ago

thanks for posting this article

Richard E Cooley
Richard E Cooley2 months ago

Thank you.

Ann B
Ann B2 months ago

no morals left any where???

Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.