College students have sex. Being sexually active comes with risks that GW’s newly implemented emergency contraceptive vending machine can help alleviate.
Although the ability to purchase contraception on campus is not revolutionary, it is a necessary step forward. The vending machine provides students with emergency contraceptive pills in the University Student Center, but it can only adequately serve as a more affordable and accessible alternative to the contraceptives sold in retail stores like CVS with further reforms. Due to the steep prices of the vending machine products and the student center’s closure overnight, the vending machine is falling short of its full potential for the student body.
The SA’s advocacy for the vending machine began in June after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade. The effort culminated last month with the University’s installation of a vending machine stocked with emergency contraceptive pills, over-the-counter medications and menstrual products in the student center.
Readily accessible and affordable emergency contraception is essential in a post-Roe United States. The Supreme Court set off a chain reaction of trigger laws with its landmark decision. As an anti-abortion group seeks to revoke the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Mifepristone, a pill that induces medical abortion, morning-after pills like those sold in the vending machine on campus will continue to be critical contraceptives.
To some students, D.C. is a safe haven for reproductive health care. While states with limited reproductive healthcare access like Arizona – my home state – Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi and South Dakota allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions based on religious or moral grounds, such actions are illegal in the District. The vending machine at GW provides students easy access to contraceptives, furthering D.C.’s identity as a safe haven.
Students should not feel embarrassed purchasing the morning-after pill or other forms of contraception, especially on liberal college campuses like GW. The contraceptive vending machine allows students to purchase contraception easily, comfortably and without facing potential assumptions about their sexual activity.
But the vending machine and its resources must be more accessible for students to make the most of it. Because the vending machine is located in the student center, its availability is restricted to when the building is open between 7 a.m. and midnight. Sexually active students can take all necessary precautions to prevent pregnancy and still find themselves in need of emergency contraception overnight.
Not to ignore those that “get it on” during the day, most sexually active students have sex late at night or early in the morning and must wait until the student center opens to obtain emergency contraceptives. Instead of waiting, however, students can go to the 24-hour CVS Pharmacy across the street from the student center. The vending machine needs to be a viable alternative to CVS to serve its purpose – officials must install more in residence halls to make the University-provided products accessible at all hours.
The other glaring issue with the vending machine is the cost of items. While the initial price of the contraceptive pills in the vending machine was $25 when the vending machine was installed, they cost $30 when I looked last week. CVS charges $30 for Aftera Levonorgestrel, another generic emergency contraceptive pill. Unless GW lowers the prices for emergency contraception in the vending machine, there is no benefit to purchasing the on-campus contraceptives over those already available at CVS.
Tampons from the contraceptive vending machine cost $1, while they’re free next door in the first basement level of District House. Providing tampons at a central campus location is critical to securing students’ comfort, but only when they are at a competitive price or, preferably, free. GW is supposed to offer free pads and tampons in campus bathrooms to comply with D.C. law, and will install free period product dispensers in campus bathrooms to do so. So why charge students to purchase tampons from the vending machine?
Boston University charges $7.25 and Northeastern University charges $7 for emergency contraception – both more affordable prices than those at CVS and GW. Northeastern also offers free tampons. These prices are proof that it is not impossible to supply students with more affordable on-campus contraceptives.
Yet University officials have remained silent as to whether they will lower the costs of these items or if they will install contraceptive vending machines across campus – despite pressure from students to do so. Considering its current prices and accessibility, GW’s contraceptive vending machine currently acts as a publicity opportunity rather than a useful resource.
Creating an environment where college students can access reproductive health care without stigma is a success in and of itself, but GW’s effort to provide students with reproductive care is not perfect. So until officials make the vending machine more affordable and accessible, make sure you have a plan to stay safe.
Isabella Marias, a freshman majoring in political science and American studies, is an opinions writer.
This article appeared in the February 27, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.