American vending machines are pretty primitive compared to our Japanese neighbors. We can't charge our electric cars. We can't pick up a beer. And there's a definite dearth of fresh eggs, fortunes, and used schoolgirl underwear.
We can, however, buy morning after pills. According to the AP this week, a vending machine at Pennsylvania's Shippensburg University dispenses Plan B emergency contraception at vending machines on campus for $25. Students can purchase the pills along with condoms, decongestants, and pregnancy tests, but they must enter through the campus health center in order to access the machine.
"The university is not encouraging anyone to be sexually active," said university spokesman Peter Gigliotti in a statement. "The university does strongly encourage all students to make wise and appropriate decisions in their lives, but we have no way to ensure that happens."
Should potent birth control measures like Plan B be available at the press of a button? It depends on whom you ask. The drug is already available behind the counter for anyone over 17 years old, so there's no issue over prescriptions. But the open accessibility of the drug flies in the face of the Obama administration's own policies: in December, Obama's top health official stopped the Plan B pill from being sold alongside condoms and other items beyond the pharmacy counter. Other health officials are wary of eliminating the buffer between patient and medicine. Said Alexandra Stern, a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, to the AP: "Perhaps it is personalized medicine taken too far. It's part of the general trend that drugs are available for consumers without interface with a pharmacist or doctors. This trend has serious pitfalls."
Then again, for Shippensburg University students, this is nothing new. The school first made the Plan B pills available two years ago, after a health center services survey showed 85 percent of students supporting the move. And it's easy to see why: Taking the morning after pill within 72 hours of intercourse, condom failure, or any unwanted sexual activity can reduce the chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent. Said Katie Wilcox, a college student, to NPR: "I can't even describe how important it was," she says. "It's an important option for girls at that age to have because...things happen."
At $25 a pop, I doubt that Plan B is ever going to be the first choice for college students—there are plenty of cheaper, more effective ways to have sex and not get pregnant. But it's a small price to pay if it helps students avoid an unwanted pregnancy.