Why all the controversy about the vending machine in Etter Health Center that dispenses doses of Plan B, better known as the morning-after pill?
According to Peter M. Gigliotti, executive director for university communications and marketing at SU, when the health center began offering Plan B two years ago it was one of the last of the 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to do so.
Two years later, SU is dealing with national attention for the unique method with which the drug is dispensed: in a vending machine. Gigliotti and other members of the administration never expected this much scrutiny.
Primarily, Gigliotti was concerned with clearing up mounting misinformation about Plan B, the vending machine in the health center and SU’s role.
Gigliotti immediately made clear that Plan B is not like RU-486, better known as the abortion pill. Plan B is contraception, not abortion. The drug is supposed to stop a pregnancy from occurring, but will not harm an embryo or fetus if fertilization occurs. This is a message echoed by all university officials who spoke on the subject, including President William Ruud in his statement on Plan B.
Second, the vending machine is in a private room and is only available to students, all of whom are 17 or older as the law requires. The Food and Drug Administration requested information from SU amidst concerns that the vending machine was in a public area and anyone could use it.
“I actually think in some cases our facility and our operation is more secure than going [to a pharmacy] because I think it would be much easier for someone to fake an ID off campus than it would be for on campus,” Gigliotti said.
Both the FDA and SU seemed satisfied with the results of the inquiry. SU has never been in violation of any laws regarding this issue and was never under any kind of investigation.
Another fact that Gigliotti clarified was how the students affected the decision to install the vending machine. A series of on-campus groups conducted a survey about the health center in which 85 percent of students expressed that they would like the contraceptive to be available on campus. Just like decisions that the administration makes about housing and facilities, student input was valued but, not the deciding factor.
The deciding factor was how to most effectively and safely offer Plan B while honoring student privacy. Gigliotti acknowledged that it must be difficult or embarrassing for a person to ask for a contraceptive, and dispensing it through a vending machine protects students’ personal security.
This raises the concern that students do not have proper guidance or consultation and could abuse the availability of the drug. According to Gigliotti, SU strives to make many resources available to students who find themselves in need of a nurse, counselor or campus minister.
As it stands, the vending machine is available during the health center’s hours of operation, and students can choose to buy Plan B in private as long as they provide multiple identifications to prove they are a student who is 17 or older.
Amidst all of the concerns, criticisms and even compliments, SU’s administration will assess how to move forward and provide this service in the most safe and effective way possible. According to Gigliotti, removal of the vending machine is unlikely.
Gigliotti and SU want to do what is best for students, but want all discussion of the issue to remain factual.
“It’s a personal decision. If you agree or disagree is up to you based on your own beliefs and values,” said Gigliotti.