Monday, June 10, 2013

Plan B on Campus/ in the World: Accessibility Rises

Laurel Prince
Target Publication: The Index
Word Count: 1011

On a Sunday morning during my first year at K, I walked 20 minutes with a friend to Walgreens, where she shelled out almost $50 for Plan B.

Two years ago, access to Emergency Contraception (EC) as a K College student was a very different story. Since then, EC has been brought into the national spotlight. On June 5th of this year, a federal appeals court ruled that all EC be sold without prescriptions to women of all ages. On K’s campus, members of S3A, Sexual Safety and Support Alliance have allowed EC to become highly accessible, providing the drug for $15 dollars, any day of the week, at any time.

Emergency Contraception aka the Morning-after Pill, also referred to by the brand name Plan B can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex: sex without birth control or sex where a birth control method failed.

The drug is used with relative frequency, in May of this year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, “About 11 percent of sexually active women, or 5.8 million, used the pill between 2006 and 2010.”

Rachel Evans, a junior at K and one of the original members of S3A guided me through the story of Plan B on K’s campus. Evans quickly explained that the Campus Health Center, where the pill has always been offered for $15, doesn’t often work for students. She told me, “It’s a problem because they’re only open until 4 or 5 every day, and not on the weekends.”

S3A started selling the EC Next Choice at the beginning of the spring quarter, in March, amongst ongoing court cases regarding access to the drug. The group, whose missions include creating space for sexual assault survivors and providing support if students decide to pursue their attackers in the legal system, was asked by the Health Center and the Peer Health Advocates (PHA) to help raise accessibility to EC on campus.

Since S3A began selling EC, sales have increased by more than 50%. In spring quarter of 2012, 11 packs were sold. During spring quarter a year later, 28 packs were sold. Jennifer Combes, the Office Coordinator of the Health Center wrote in an email, “We didn’t track if a student received it from the student health center or one of the student groups, however I think the numbers indicate the effectiveness of student’s having access.”

Plan B One Step, and the generic version Next Choice, the leading Emergency Contraception options, are 89% effective if taken within the first 72 hours, and can remain effective for 5 days after sex, according to Planned Parenthood.

The crux of the problem of distributing Plan B on college campuses is simple: the drug is most effective in the hours after unprotected sex, oftentimes during the weekends or in the early morning hours when campus health centers are not open.

Evans explains how Plan B works on this campus: members of S3A, with an online and campus-wide presence, can opt in to carrying the pill, and hold one at a time. If a student contacts a member to receive the drug, they can pay cash or sign a form with options to pay with card in the Health Center of have the charge placed on their student account as “Health Center Bill.” The S3A member then brings the money or confirmation of payment to the Health Center to receive a new box. This means that each member can only distribute to one person during non-business hours, a possible concern. Evans cites selling 3 pills this quarter, and says almost every member has sold at least one pill.

The concerns regarding Plan B nationally, however, are not so simple. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Obama Administration and pro-life and pro-choice groups have been debating on the drug for months. Issues regarding the perception of EC as an abortion pill, age and prescription limits on the drug, and accessibility on University campuses have riddled these debates.

When I asked Evans about one of the major concerns surrounding EC, its perception as an abortion pill, she explained frankly that, “People still have this ridiculous conception that Plan B is an abortion pill, which if you’re pregnant, Plan B is not going to do anything.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health confirms Evan’s reasoning that that EC is not an abortion pill, nor does it have any lasting health impacts. They write on their website, “Emergency contraception works before pregnancy begins. It will not work if a woman is already pregnant.

Judge Edward Korman, who made the initial order to the FDA in April to distribute Plan B over-the-counter to women of all ages said, “These emergency contraceptives would be among the safest drugs sold over the counter.”

Shippensburg University, located in a small central Pennsylvanian town, gained national attention in January for an EC vending machine, which was eventually allowed by the FDA. At Shippensburg, questions were raised over the availability of the drug to non-University students or students under the previous FDA requirement of 17-years of age. The school policy became a debacle, ending in a requirement for students swipe their student ID before purchase, confirming both age and University enrollment.

Other campuses nationwide have the pill available through Health Centers, although the method of students selling the drug is rare. Several schools, including Harvard, allow women to receive the drug free of charge at campus health centers.

S3A members will sell to men and women, and Evans explained that they don’t keep track of names, just number of pills sold.

“We don’t tell even each other the names of the people. That’s something we debated about for a while, is it important to keep track if someone doing this every weekend? We decided that that’s everybody’s personal choice, there are no health problems associated with it. You can take it every weekend and that’s fine. People can take it every weekend if they want, it’s probably not the least expensive way to do that,” says Evans.

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