February 7, 2012 at 7:20 PM CST - Updated June 26 at 11:17 AM
By KEVIN BEGOS | Associated Press
Students at Shippensburg University in central Pennsylvania can get the "morning-after" pill by sliding $25 into a vending machine installed at the request of the student government.
The Etter Health Center at Shippensburg, a public school of 8,300 students in Appalachia's scenic Cumberland Valley, provides the Plan B One Step emergency contraceptive along with condoms, decongestants and pregnancy tests.
The pill is available without a prescription to anyone 17 or older, and the school checked records and found that all current students are that age or older, spokesman Peter Gigliotti said.
The machine was installed after a request from the student association. The pill's availability in a vending machine appears to be rare, if not unprecedented.
The idea started when Shippensburg conducted a survey about health center services several years ago, and 85 percent of the respondents supported making Plan B available, he said.
"The machine is in a private room in our health center, and the health center is only accessible by students," Gigliotti said in a statement. "In addition, no one can walk in off the street and go into the health center. Students proceed to a check-in desk located in the lobby and after checking in are granted access to the treatment area."
Taking Plan B within 72 hours of rape, condom failure or just forgetting regular contraception can cut the chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent. It works best if taken within 24 hours.
Some religious conservatives consider the emergency contraceptive tantamount to an abortion drug. A spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jessica Sheets Pika, a spokeswoman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said that "if the health center is manned 24/7, that sounds like it's a sufficient protection."
"But if there's a chance that people under 17 are able to access it, that's a problem," she added.
The drug isn't covered or subsidized by the school. Its price at the vending machine is set by the school's cost to the pharmaceutical company and is less than at off-campus pharmacies.