During new student orientation at Brandeis, students are subjected to hours of presentations and skits, covering topics like drug and alcohol use, parties, relationships and perhaps most prominently: sexual health. These few hours of skits, which are likely to be the only sex education students receive while at Brandeis, are generally sex-positive. Unlike high school health class, these presentations do not preach abstinence-only, but acknowledge that college students are sexually active by promoting safe sex and throwing free condoms into the crowd.
Yet while condoms are easily accessible, our campus still lacks comprehensive contraception access. Emergency contraception, a necessary and normal method of birth control—though used only in special cases—is not easily accessible. In addition, the combination of a lack of information and misinformation in mainstream media results in numerous misconceptions about the necessity of emergency contraception.
Let’s dispel the most prominent of these misconceptions: the emergency contraceptive pill, also known as the morning-after pill or by the brand name Plan B One-Step, is not the abortion pill. According to the Planned Parenthood website, the abortion pill contains mifepristone, a medication which ends pregnancy by blocking the hormones necessary for maintaining a pregnancy. Meanwhile emergency contraception, which contains a higher dose of the synthetic hormone found in birth control pills, works by delaying the release of the egg from the ovary and inhibiting the transport of the sperm. Thus, emergency contraception acts before pregnancy to decrease the likelihood for it to occur and does not affect any existing pregnancy in the case that it already has occurred.
Despite the fact that Plan B One-Step is a safe and effective method of birth control, it is not readily accessible, on and off campus. It is available for free through the Brandeis Health Center, the cost covered by the school if not through the student’s insurance. However, the Health Center is only open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and furthermore, emergency contraception is only available during walk-in hours on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., never on the weekends. These are not necessarily the times at which students will need emergency contraception—unprotected sex can and does occur on the weekends and evenings when the Health Center is not open. Additionally, emergency contraception is most effective the sooner it is taken. According to the Plan B website, there is a 95 percent chance of it working within 24 hours of intercourse, and this percentage goes down as more hours pass. Students should not have to take this risk of waiting until after the weekend is over to access emergency contraception.
If the Health Center is closed, students may be forced to leave campus to find emergency contraception at a drugstore, which proves difficult for students who don’t have cars. At drugstores, it can cost between $40 and $50, hardly an affordable price for many. Regardless of the circumstances, the interactions required to obtain emergency contraception can be stressful and embarrassing.
Just five years ago, emergency contraception became legally available over-the-counter to persons of any age—prior to that, it was only available to women 17 or older. Yet, many drugstores have yet to normalize the product on their shelves. A 2017 study by the American Society for Emergency Contraception found after surveying 184 pharmacies across the U.S., 40 percent did not have emergency contraception on the shelf and 30 percent imposed an age requirement.
Luckily for Brandeis students, Brandeis Pro-Choice is addressing the issue to meet needs on campus. As of the start of the 2018-2019 school year, a “Health and Wellness” vending machine will be installed in the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC) with 24/7 access to emergency contraception and other health-related items at a low cost.
This machine is funded by various grants from Planned Parenthood over the past two years and is being used to not only mark down the cost of the pill to an affordable price for students, but also provide education the campus lacks about Plan B and sexual health. With this vending machine, Brandeis is following in the footsteps of a handful of other universities in the country—Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Davis—who have already installed such machines. Discreet, affordable and 24/7 access to Plan B is essential to college students today, who have enough on their plates without the additional stress of struggling to access basic sexual health services.
Brandeis Pro-Choice meets every Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Schwartz Hall 103.
Ellie is the co-events director of Brandeis Pro-Choice and the campaign leader for Brandeis’ chapter of the Planned Parenthood Generation Action Campus Campaigns program.