Vending Machines on College Campuses Now Offer Plan B

They're a push post-Roe to ensure college students have access to affordable, discreet contraception
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 3, 2023 8:13 AM CDT
Vending Machines on College Campuses Now Offer Plan B
A vending machine is stocked with emergency contraceptives on the campus of the University of Washington on Friday in Seattle.   (Kevin Clark/The Seattle Times via AP)

Need Plan B? Tap your credit card and enter "B6." Since last November, a library at the University of Washington has featured a different kind of vending machine, one that's become more popular on campuses around the country since the US Supreme Court ended constitutional protections for abortion last year. This particular machine is stocked with ibuprofen, pregnancy tests, and the morning-after pill, per the AP. With some states enacting abortion bans and others enshrining protections and expanding access to birth control, the machines are part of a push on college campuses to ensure emergency contraceptives are cheap, discreet, and widely available. The machines can't be placed in K-12 schools or be exposed to the elements, and they must have temperature and humidity controls and include plans for power outages and expired items.

There are now 39 universities in 17 states with emergency contraceptive vending machines, and at least 20 more considering them, according to the American Society for Emergency Contraception. Some, such as the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, are in states where abortion is largely banned. Over-the-counter purchase of Plan B and generic forms is legal in all 50 states. The 2022 ruling overturning Roe v. Wade "is putting people's lives at stake, so it makes pregnancy prevention all the more urgent," said Kelly Cleland, the ASEC's executive director. "If you live in a state where you cannot get an abortion and you can't get an abortion anywhere near you, the stakes are so much higher than they've ever been before."

Washington this year became the first US state to set aside money—$200,000 to fund $10,000 grants that colleges can obtain next year through an application process—to expand access to emergency contraceptives at public universities and technical colleges through the automatic dispensers. In Illinois and New York, lawmakers are developing legislation that would require at least one vending machine selling emergency contraceptives on state college campuses. The UW machine, installed after a student-led campaign, offers boxes of generic Plan B for $12.60, about a quarter of what the name-brand versions sell for in stores; more than 640 have been sold so far. The drug is even cheaper in some machines than it is in UW's, as low as $7 per box. That's because it's sold at just above wholesale cost, compared with pharmacy retail prices that might go up to $50.

story continues below

Although the morning-after pill has been approved by the FDA for over-the-counter sale, many stores and pharmacies keep it behind the counter or locked up, require ID for purchase, and make the experience of purchasing it intimidating. "There is a stigma associated with getting access to these medications," said Zoe Amaris, a UW pharmacy student. "Having a vending machine is so easy. You don't need to go to a pharmacy. You don't need to go through your health care provider." Plan B is more effective the sooner it's taken, and vending machine access could be particularly crucial for rape victims when pharmacies are closed. The anonymity the machines afford may also be important to some assault victims. "When you have a vending machine, it takes away a lot of those barriers," Cleland said.

(More morning after pill stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.