By Isabella Joslin, SIECUS Program Research Intern
The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently decided not to take regulatory action against Shippensburg University for providing emergency contraception (EC) through a vending machine. The machine, located in the campus health center, dispenses Plan B (for $25), as well as condoms, pregnancy tests, and decongestants. Although the machine has been in place for about three years, it came to the FDA’s attention in 2012 prompting the agency to investigate further. Federal law permits over-the-counter purchase of most emergency contraception by anyone (male or female) age 17 or older. Was a vending machine in compliance?
School administrators had authorized the vending machine in response to a campus survey in which 85% of student respondents expressed a desire for better access to Plan B. Shippensburg ensured that all of their registered students were above the age-17 cutoff before installing the machine. The vending machine is only accessible to students and is located in a semi-private room in the health center, which cannot be accessed unless students swipe their IDs at the front desk.
The FDA investigation followed complaints by opponents of comprehensive sexual health services and education. Kristan Hawkins of the national pro-life organization, Students for Life of America, expressed the opposition viewpoint: “I really can’t understand what’s private about putting money into a machine to purchase a lethal drug and then watching folks bang on it when the pill box gets stuck.” She further denounced the availability of EC by linking it (erroneously) to abortion: “To allow an abortion pill on campus to be sold through a vending machine without even so much as a doctor’s exam is beyond comprehension.” Emergency contraception, such as Plan B, is not an abortion pill but an intense dose of contraception, which prevents pregnancy and therefore prevents the need for abortion. Students for Life of America also attempted to miseducate the campus by implying that Shippensburg was bypassing medical exams as a precondition to obtain EC. Federal law has permitted over-the-counter purchases of most types of EC for males and females age 17 and over since 2009.
As the FDA discovered, comprehensive sexual health education at Shippensburg – a longstanding target of opponents such as Students for Life of America – has not been replaced by a vending machine. Peter Gigliotti, Director of Communications for the campus, said, “Students, as part of the support services offered by the university, have the opportunity to discuss Plan B and any important decisions in their lives with medical, pastoral, or counseling staff.” Improving access to EC has increased opportunities for reproductive health education and has allowed students privacy and convenience in a rural, small-town campus environment where these were perceived to be lacking.
 Steven Ertelt, “Obama Admin Oks Vending Machine Selling Plan B Morning After Pill,”LifeNews.com, 29 January 2013, accessed 13 February 2013, <http://www.lifenews.com/2013/01/29/obama-admin-oks-vending-machine-selling-plan-b-morning-after-pill/>.
 Tara Culp-Ressler, “FDA Allows College Campus to Make Contraception More Accessible with Plan B Vending Machine,” ThinkProgress.org, 29 January 2013, accessed 13 February 2013, <http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/01/29/1508841/fda-plan-b-vending-machine>.
 Roger L. Serr, Statement on Plan B Availability, Shippensburg University, 7 February 2013, accessed 13 February 2013, <http://www.ship.edu/News/2012/01/Statement_on_Plan_B_availability/>.
 Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Morning After Pill (Emergency Contraception), accessed 13 February 2013, <http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/emergency-contraception-morning-after-pill-4363.asp>.
 Amber South, “FDA Will Take No Regulatory Action Against Shippensburg University for Plan B Vending Machine,” Public Opinion, 24 January 2013, accessed 13 February 2013, <http://www.publicopiniononline.com/ci_22440536/fda-will-take-no-regulatory-action-against-shippensburg?source=most_emailed>.