Students Look to Vending Machines for Better Access to Morning-After Pill

The morning-after pill, a higher dose of the synthetic hormone found in birth control pills, primarily works by delaying the release of an egg from the ovary. It is sometimes confused with mifepristone, which induces miscarriage and is commonly called the “abortion pill.” Unlike mifepristone, if an egg has already implanted in the uterus, Plan B cannot end the pregnancy.

It is most effective if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex.

Plan B and its generics are supposed to be over-the-counter medications, but experts say drugstores don’t always keep them out in the open because they are expensive. And many university health centers have abbreviated or nonexistent hours on weekends, when Plan B is often needed the most.

In response, students have pushed for ways to buy the drug more easily.

Stanford kicked off its current quarter with the installation of a vending machine that sells My Way (a generic version of Plan B) for $25, as well as condoms.


Parteek Singh, who graduated this year from the University of California, Davis, spearheaded efforts to install a “wellness” vending machine on campus that dispenses a generic version of Plan B, pregnancy tests, feminine hygiene products, condoms and more.

Parteek Singh

Rachel Samuels, a recent graduate, worked for nearly three years to bring the machine to Stanford’s campus, inspired by her brother’s success installing a similar machine at Pomona College in Southern California.

Stanford’s health center pharmacy dispenses Plan B, but it isn’t open on weekends, according to its website. So Ms. Samuels and a group of other students sent out a survey in early 2015 asking if students favored expanding access to emergency contraception.

Some of the students said that they found it stressful and embarrassing to visit a drugstore or the health center and that the health center’s hours of operation were problematic, Ms. Samuels said.

A friend of Ms. Samuels said she had to check a CVS, a Walgreens and a Target before finally finding emergency contraception.

In 2016, Ms. Samuels used her platform as an officer in the student government to make the vending machine a priority. The student government and the university reached an agreement: Each would pay half the cost of the machine. This year, it was finally unveiled.

Contraception can still be hard to…

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