Access to birth control methods sparks controversy

Originally posted here, at The Temple News.

In light of the opposition against a vending maching that dispenses emergency contraceptives, Carr argues that the discussion should be more focused on effective sex education.

Lately there’s been a lot of heat surrounding different methods of birth control for women. Whether it’s due to politics, religious beliefs or conflicting morals, people want to voice their opinion on what exactly women should do with their bodies and lives. But with everyone too busy worrying about the choices people are free to make, an important issue is being ignored: We’re still not educated on safe sex.

Recently, Shippensburg University found its way into the spotlight regarding a controversial vending machine that dispenses Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptives, better known as the morning-after pill.

The vending machine, which has been in the university’s health center for the past two years, is facing investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is examining whether or not the machine follows the federal regulations that requires females under age 17 to have a prescription to obtain the drug.

While adhering to regulations is of course essential, what really concerns me is the amount of people who believe this is some sort of heinous crime or the people who want the machine gone because they’re angry that females would decide to use Plan B in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, not because of a violation.

Director of the public health undergraduate program, Dr. Sarah Bass, said that many people consider Plan B an abortion pill and that often times there are dilemmas between religion and public health policies.

“The main thing is to make sure that women who have had unprotected sex and that are worried about being pregnant can get access to it quickly,” Bass said.

But while Bass said she supports the university for making Plan B available, she said she has mixed feelings about the vending machine. It could, she said, possibly lead to a decline in condom use amongst students.

“Some would think that easy access to Plan B makes the decision about having sex very easy,” Bass said.

And Bass’s concern should be an alarm to many people. While I sincerely believe many college students understand that Plan B is not a substitute for condoms and that it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, not enough of students are educated on the practices of safe sex. The problem stems from the same train of thought of those who oppose the availability of Plan B and those who believe abstinence is the only solution and the only thing that should even be taught or considered.

“In the past five to 10 years a lot of students are coming to college and haven’t had a lot of sex education because we had eight years of federally mandated abstinence only education in a lot of high schools,” Bass said.

“Because of that, you don’t have quite of much of a sense of risk in college students,” Bass added.

Bass suggests a variety of public health strategies to increase safe sex at universities including improving education and peer education, pushing awareness through health services and making condoms more accessible to students.   But despite an improvement in safe sex, many will still impose their religious beliefs on others and argue that Plan B is immoral or that birth control is wrong. And many politicians will continue to push these religious based ideologies, rejecting any sort of legislation or policy that goes too far in allowing women to choose anything but abstinence.

“It’s America, that’s life, and that’s the freedom that people have to express their opinion,” Bass said.

And while a portion of the population will continue to fight against easy access to birth control, public health officials like Bass will have to continue to battle to improve public health, increase awareness and give people access to the tools they need.

Maybe if we improved sex education at high schools and colleges, then Plan B wouldn’t even be needed as often. Maybe students would increase their condom usage and successfully avoid unwanted pregnancies. Until then, I’m pretty sure we should stick with the 85 percent approval rate of Shippensburg’s student body and keep the vending machine intact.


– Cary Carr


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