SHAC: Emergency Contraception should be more accessible on campus
This piece reflects the views of the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC), and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]
Sexual health is a core aspect of overall wellness and needs to be treated accordingly. Integrating health products into our built environment can allow important health-related decisions to become realistic options. Installing a wellness machine in the Erb Memorial Union (EMU) will address access barriers and promote sex positivity by making emergency contraception (EC) and general wellness products available in a central location with extended hours and high levels of student activity.
College students frequently compromise their personal health as they face the mounting pressures of coursework, financial obligations and extracurricular commitments. Sexual wellness, in particular, is especially challenging to maintain due to factors including social stigmas, varied access to resources, upward trends of STIs on college campuses, rape culture and a lack of comprehensive sexual health education. College-age students report having unprotected vaginal sex at a rate of 50.9 percent, which increases the risk for unintended pregnancy. EC is a protective resource for college students that experience birth control failure, have an unprotected sexual encounter or seek additional assurance and comfort.
Research has also revealed that fears about pregnancy are consistently one of the top three concerns of rape survivors. Sexual violence is pervasive on campuses not only across the nation, but also at the University of Oregon. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted and the statistics are even more alarming for women of color and people that identify as LGBTQIA+. It’s important for survivors of sexual assault and violence to have unobstructed access to EC.
Access to EC is a matter of reproductive justice. Increasing access to EC on campus would empower UO students and would contribute to a more sex-positive community. The Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) is in favor of installing a ‘wellness machine’ on campus that would make EC and other wellness products more accessible to all students. The University Health Center (UHC) – along with groups like the Women’s Center, Students for Choice, the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Education team and more – have already taken significant steps to improve the sexual climate at UO by making a variety of educational and material resources available. The wellness machine would be an additional way for the university and ASUO to affirm their investment in sexual wellness on campus.
UHC currently promotes sexual wellness by providing safer sex items (condoms, lube, finger cots, gloves, dental dams), emergency contraceptives (Plan B, Ella, and Paragard IUDs), access to the STI screening clinic, HIV testing and educational programming (Sex Café and additional events at the Duck Nest). The operational hours of the UHC (9 – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 – 1 p.m. Saturday) can make it difficult for students to access EC. Though Plan B is marketed as effective when taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, it has the highest efficacy when administered as early as possible. It’s important for EC to be accessible in a building with extended hours and weekend access because it is a time-sensitive drug and often needed outside of business hours.
While EC can be purchased in community pharmacies, this can be challenging for students who do not have access to personal vehicles to find off-campus transportation. Name brand Plan B is also more expensive in community pharmacies, at an average of $45-50 in comparison to the discounted price of $25 at the UHC pharmacy. Additionally, many community pharmacies store EC in large, locked boxes that may make students feel exposed and/or uncomfortable to purchase in person. The idea of publicly purchasing EC can be stressful and prohibitive to individuals. The aforementioned access issues and social stigmas are components of the current barriers that make access to EC unduly challenging.
College campuses across the nation have already established precedence for making emergency contraception more accessible. In 2012, Shippensburg University made Plan B available in a health-vending machine in response to survey results where eighty-five percent of respondents supported making Plan B more accessible. Since then, vending machines with Plan B have been welcomed onto campuses including Stanford University, Pomona College, UC Davis, UCSB, Dartmouth College and more. Pomona College’s wellness room includes a vending machine that has everything from Plan B to vibrators, and the University of Maryland offers Plan B for $15 in their 24/7 student convenience stores on campus. Despite current legislation that allows EC to be sold over-the-counter in Oregon, ‘wellness vending machines’ that make EC more accessible have yet to be implemented in Oregon schools.
Our proposed wellness machine would dispense sexual health products (EC, pregnancy tests, menstrual hygiene products and gender-inclusive safer sex supplies) as well as general wellness products (first aid products, allergy medication and other over-the-counter drugs). The wellness machine would be installed on the ground floor of the EMU in a secluded hallway in-between the Duck Nest and the KWVA studio. The EMU is an ideal location for the machine because it is a hub for student activity and is a centrally located, ADA-accessible building with extended hours and weekend access. The hallway of our proposed location currently houses two vending machines, which would further normalize the use of our wellness machine.
The wellness machine bypasses concerns about barriers and social stigmas related to these products by allowing students to privately and anonymously purchase sexual health and wellness supplies. We urge UO students, faculty and staff to sign our online petition in support of this wellness machine and encourage higher education institutions across Oregon to consider taking steps to follow suit.
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