Health Center introduces emergency contraception

By KATRINA TULLOCH

[email protected]

Emergency contraception is now available in the Winslow Health Center.

CODY MILLER/The Campus

Sue Plunkett, director of the health center, suddenly dropped the news at the Reproductive Health Coalition’s Sexual Health Panel on April 21.

“I just blurted it out and everyone went ‘Ahhhh!’” Plunkett said, waving her hands in the air.

After working all year to bring Plan B One-Step or a similar morning-after pill to campus, the members of ReproCo were surprised to find out this way. No one had told them and the health center Web site hadn’t published information about the addition.

“It was awkwardly announced,” said ReproCo member Lisa Rivera, ’14. “But it was a really good obstacle we overcame. It was great to see progress.”

Jacquie Kondrot, associate dean of students for wellness education, gauged the reaction of the nearly 100 students and staff who attended the panel.

“Sue got applause,” Kondrot said. “It was great and I’m glad we’ve been able to go forward with this.”

Plunkett, Kondrot and students in ReproCo have discussed bringing emergency contraception for months. Plunkett said a driving force in finally ordering the pills was comparing notes with the health centers of other school to see if this addition was right for our campus and how the health center employees would go about dispensing it responsibly.

The contraception is not Plan B One-Step, but the brand Next Choice, which instead contains two tablets in a pack, which must be taken as soon as possible after intercourse, 12 hours apart.

Plunkett chose this brand over others because it had higher rates of efficacy and fewer side effects than other brands. Plunkett thought the cost was reasonable as well. She will sell the packs for $35, a significantly lower cost than options sold at local pharmacies.

Plunkett ordered five boxes of Next Choice so far. No one has bought emergency contraception yet from the health center, according to Plunkett, but two students called about it last week, one of them male. Plunkett did not feel comfortable giving Next Choice to the male student without being able to speak with his female partner about it first. Neither student ended up buying a pack.

Although males can get Next Choice at local pharmacies, a licensed professional must be on site to answer any questions according to Pennsylvania law. Plunkett believes it’s similarly important for a health center staff member to be directly available to the female students purchasing Next Choice.

“It’s her body, it’s the female’s body,” Plunkett said. “I want to be able to talk to the female and see if she has questions or concerns. She’s the person taking it.”

Plunkett does have concerns that there’s no way to prevent a female from getting Next Choice for a friend. But at this point, Plunkett would rather not give out pills to male students.

Some ReproCo members expressed concern about difficulty students might have in order to get the pills.

“I’m not gonna lie, I’m concerned that it’s a bit of a front put on by the health center,” Rivera said. “[Emergency contraception] is here, but I think there are going to be a lot of stipulations in order to get it.”

ReproCo member Cassie Dellas, ‘14, was relieved that students no longer had to go in town in order to get emergency contraception. She believes the ability for students to get what they need on campus is important to their privacy.

“It’s better for people to have that safety net,” said Dellas. “But it’s important to discuss whether male students will be able to get it, how [the health center] plans to pass it out and if they’re going to be taking down names, things like that.”

Plunkett believes discussion prior to giving out Next Choice is essential to the proper use of the pills.

“We’re not trying to make people jump through hoops,” Plunkett said. “We see ourselves as advocates for students.”

As part of the process to bring Next Choice to campus, Dean of Students Joe DiChristina worked with Plunkett to gather information from other colleges about how they dispense emergency contraception to students. Some colleges, like Ohio Wesleyan, also insist on meeting with students before allowing them to have the pill. Other schools want students to sign forms to receive the pills.

“I don’t feel like I need a student to sign consent,” Plunkett said. “Talking is adequate and this is what we feel most comfortable doing as health care providers.”

The addition of emergency contraception has been generally well-received by students.

“I’m glad those services are available to students who need them and that they don’t have to go far, to like CVS or Walgreen’s, to get them,” said Meghan Curran, ‘12.

“More options for students is always good,” said Vyasar Ganesan, ‘12.

At the Sexual Health panel, students in the audience brought up concerns that the campus is not a safe place to discuss sexual issues. Kondrot believes Allegheny is taking steps in the right direction.

“I would hope people are starting to feel like they can come forward and that it’s OK to talk about these things,” she said. “I want us to be embracing of reproductive and sexual health. We need to show we’re nonjudgmental.”