Morning-after pills should be available on college campuses around the clock

Morning After pills should be available on college campuses around the clock. Sarah Riback doesn’t have personal experience with getting the pills on campus. But the 19-year-old at the University of Maryland knows peers who have needed them. “This is a common thing that a lot of other female students have had to do,” she said.

She’s talking about emergency contraception. Riback and other advocates say morning-after pills should be available on college campuses at all hours.

At U-Md., they’re available at a student health center pharmacy that is open 36 hours a week, Monday through Friday.

“Unlike a business, a student’s sex life does not operate on a 9-5 schedule, and because of this, access to emergency contraceptives should not operate on a schedule,” Riback, a government and politics major from Baltimore, wrote this month in the student newspaper the Diamondback.

Experts say the morning-after pill works best the sooner one takes it after unprotected sex. Students who need it sometimes don’t want to wait for health centers to open. One option to solve this problem on some campuses is a simple vending machine.

About 1,000 students from six college campuses in Maryland have signed petitions in support of 24-7 campus access to over-the-counter emergency contraception, according to NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland.

This year, a Maryland lawmaker proposed a bill to require that level of access at public colleges and universities. Its chances don’t seem great. The legislation from Del. Marice I. Morales (D-Montgomery), HB 1205, has stalled in Annapolis.

At Dartmouth, students can get the morning-after pill from an unlikely place — a vending machine. The vending machine, which also provides cough syrup, painkillers, nasal spray and other health products, is an innovative solution to the problem that students on college campuses around the country face: They need the morning-after pill, more commonly known as Plan B, at hours during which their college’s health center or pharmacy is not open. According to the most recent research, emergency contraception, which can decrease the risk of pregnancy by up to 88 percent, is most effective the sooner an individual takes it.

At USC, the morning-after pill became available without prescription at both the USC Pharmacy and the Engemann Student Health Center in January 2002. Additionally, if the student were to visit the pharmacy instead of setting an appointment at the health center, a pharmacist will screen for any medical conditions warranting referral to the student health center or other health-care providers before providing the pill.

The health center operates from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Mondays to Thursdays, with the exception of pressing medical issues which students can be seen for until 7 p.m. On Fridays, it is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and over the weekend, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. As for the pharmacy, the hours are similar: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays, with no hours on the weekends.

Students can also purchase the morning-after pill at the CVS pharmacy on Figueroa Street during its hours, which are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The morning-after pill has the best chances of preventing pregnancy if taken within 24 hours. They can also be taken in the days after — ideally, a period of 72 hours — but the chances of preventing pregnancy are lowered. So in theory, the current hours of our health facilities allow for these scenarios.

Yet, the provision of emergency contraception should not be limited to the hours that these facilities are open. When it comes to Plan B, the sooner the better. And for students who are worried about pregnancy, the option of taking the morning-after pill immediately could be their best chance to prevent pregnancy.

Like Dartmouth, USC should adopt a similar vending machine to offer quick, convenient and around-the-clock access to Plan B, and ensure that crucial healthcare is fully available to students.

However, a vending machine does not provide the necessary information and screening given before dispensing the pill. That is where the importance of comprehensive sex education, which includes these aspects of Plan B, when it must be used and how it must be used effectively, comes into play. Furthermore, if a student is seeking the morning-after pill, they are probably aware of its effects and what it does, and information can be provided alongside the medication if something akin to a vending machine were to be in place.

Chances are, the hours in which students might need Plan B may not fit within the opening hours of providing facilities. Students need to have emergency contraception available to them at all hours, not just when campus health facilities are open. For someone who needs emergency contraception, the word “emergency” is key.

Morning After pills should be available on college campuses around the clock. Vending, kiosks, and automated retailing can be part of that solution.