A Private Matter Between a Woman and Her Vending Machine?

At Shippensburg University, female students who hook-up for drunken sex on Saturday will find it easy to dispose of just-conceived babies on Monday or Tuesday. A quick trip to the vending machine is all it takes.

Easy. Kind of like buying a bag of Doritos.

Women who wake up in unfamiliar beds or sober up and wonder, “What were you thinking, girl?” needn’t worry much. Stride across campus, past the dining hall (grab a doughnut for later), and into the University Health Center. Flash a student ID and head to the vending machine in the “self-help” area. There, next to the cough drops and Mucinex, in discreet, feminine packaging, is Plan B One Step. No questions asked. Feed the bills into the slot, grab and go. Empowered with “choices,” these women pop the package blister, swallow the pill, and breathe easy.

Problem solved. Glad that’s over.

Only it’s really not.

Billed as “emergency contraception,” according to the package insert, Plan B inhibits ovulation and thus prevents conception. But it also alters the lining of the uterus, preventing a newly conceived child from implanting in its mother’s womb.  Without implantation, that tiny human being cannot draw nourishment and will die. (Occasionally, Plan B fails and the pregnancy continues.)

In most cases, however, Plan B succeeds.

But “success” is not pretty. Our Shippensburg student will have a one-in-three chance of heavy bleeding. And 13% of women who take Plan B One Step end up curled up in bed with nausea, abdominal pain, and fatigue. Worse, nearly one in ten women who use emergency contraception (compared to 2% of pregnancies in the general population) develop severe abdominal pain and require emergency treatment for an ectopic pregnancy.

But no worries, this is a private decision between a woman and her vending machine.

(Maybe the Supreme Court should update that hallowed language about abortion being a private medical decision between a woman and her doctor, eh?)

Back in Shippensburg, it’s been a bad few days for the University’s PR team–one negative link on Drudge would keep anybody hopping—and they’re feeling a bit defensive. “We’re not the first” to make Plan B available on a college campus, they say.

But from a vending machine?

Has our culture so trivialized sex and baby-making that the ‘solution’ to an unintended pregnancy comes out of a vending machine? And the grown-ups in the room don’t even blink?

Shippensburg’s decision seems destined to create a campus norm of casual sex. But in its February 7 statement, the University asserted that it’s “not encouraging anyone to be sexually active. That is a decision each student makes on his or her own.”

But why offer students abortion-inducing drugs, right on campus? (Ironically, the University vending machines don’t carry condoms, the typical must-have accessory for promiscuous sex).

In a phone interview February 7, Dr. Peter M. Gigliotti, Executive Director for University Communications & Marketing, said the university installed the vending machine “several years” ago after a student survey showed that 85% of students favored on-campus access to emergency contraception. He defended the decision, expressed surprise at the media coverage, and insisted that no one under the age of 17 has access to the vending machine. (By law, Plan B cannot be dispensed to anyone under 17 without a prescription.)

In Shippensburg’s public statement, Dr. Robert Serr, Vice-President for Student Affairs, also downplayed the disclosure and framed the issue as support for reproductive choice: “Reproductive services are a personal decision to be made by every man and woman. As such, the university is providing students with a medication that they can obtain legally elsewhere as part of their ability to make their own choices.”

Put differently, Shippensburg wonders, “What’s the big deal?”

That attitude is precisely the problem.

“Emergency contraception” dispensed from a vending machine is the perfect icon of our culture’s impersonal–and utilitarian–view of sex and reproduction.

The icon’s meaning:

  • Sex is no big deal. It’s entertainment. Condom malfunction? Fix the problem in less time than it takes to rent a Redbox movie.
  • Making—or destroying–a baby is no big deal either. Using ‘emergency contraception’ has the moral significance of taking a cough drop. (One button on the vending machine gets you Plan B, another gets you lemon-flavored cough drops.)
  • Convenience rules. Why bother with nine months of pregnancy—and 21 years of child-rearing–when freedom is just a vending machine away?
  • Like casual sex, abortion (even disguised as “emergency contraception”) turns a union of two into a solo event. No strings. Just another individual experience that requires “appropriate decisions.”
  • Repeat business is a given—the abortion industry depends on it. No one visits a vending machine just once.

To the women of Shippensburg University: wake up! What could be more lonely than heading across a cold Pennsylvania campus “the morning after”, alone, to rendezvous with a vending machine? It’s an automated “problem-solver”, stoically dispensing drugs that not only kill your baby but also numb your heart. All so you can go back and do it again.

That’s not “choice”. It’s exploitation. And people who really care about you won’t exploit you.

Please, reach out.

Because you deserve better.


This article by Mary Rice Hasson was originally published on MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons Licence. If you enjoyed this article, visit MercatorNet.com for more.



Mary Rice Hasson is Visiting Fellow in Catholic Studies Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

  • Micha_Elyi

    Ms. Casual-Sex began numbing her heart (and mind) when she lied to herself that she wasn’t intending to indulge herself in sexing a boy that night; “Only bad girls intend to have sex before marriage – that’s why they use contraceptives.   I’m not like that!”

    Yeah, sure honey.  I believe you.  Really.

    This sort of female self-deception remains common practice.  That’s why there’s such a big female market for morning-after ‘abortaceptives’ such as Ella and Plan B.

  • Sam22

    Here we go again with your Catholic theater of the absurd. A few cells now has the same rights as a full human being? Somehow, I don’t think Thomas Aquinas, and many other great theological luminaries, would agree with that. But hey, why let that get in the way of the traditionally reactionary Catholic disgust for everything sexual? If calling fornicators murderers will stop them from fornicating… the ends justify the means. The Jesuits taught you that one, at least the old school Jesuits.

    • Dear Sam,
      Ask yourself this: Do inanimate objects grow? Therefore these cells are human life at the beginning. 
      Also Catholics don’t find sex disgusting. We just realize it is a special gift from God to be treated as such and not misused.
      Please read what the Catholics teach before you state what we believe. Don’t quote what non Catholics say we believe. Read what is written by the Catholic doctrine. Life is precious and as one person said, “Only people who have already been born are in favor of abortion”.
      I hope this helps you. Joanne

      • Sam22

        Ask yourself what Aquinas believed about this: that ensoulment occurs forty days after fertilization, and fifty days for girls, following Aristotle. The reasoning is that form cannot inhabit where matter is deficient. At best, a zygote is a human being only in potentia. The disgust for the whole ordeal centers on the traditional aversion of Christianity towards sex on the one hand, and the idea that sexual relations were the property of men (either husband or father, depending on the context). 

        • The zygote is matter as matter is defined as anything that has weight and   occupies space. The size or wt doesn’t matter (no pun intended). Are you saying that these cells become human when the sould enters the being?
          Don’t forget that each of these cells have all the DNA of humans or they couldn’t develop into one. No, Sam, life begins at conception. 
          So where are getting the sad impression that Catholics believe sex is disgusting? As I told you, it is a gift. Also we are in the 21st century. I don’t know any Christian women who think sex is a wifely duty only. We believe we are one with our husbands in all things, sex included.
          Instead of abortion inducing pills, abstinence should be taught. Obviously babies are not the only thing that come from sex. Remember STDs. 

        • RCIAer

          For one thing, the timing of ensoulment differs from the question of personhood or the morality of destroying an embryo. Please read this article by  Fr.Tadeusz Pacholczyk for a clarification of the Catholic position if you’re interested in a genuine dialogue and aren’t just here to rant: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/medical_ethics/me0116.htm . The fact that Aquinas believed in delayed ensoulment (a position most modern theologians reject) does nothing to prove that he deviated from the unanimous  teaching of the Church- from the Fathers on- regarding abortion. Your statement that an embryo is a human “in potentia” is mere question-begging. As for Christianity’s “disgust for the whole idea” of sex stemming from “the traditional aversion of Christianity toward sex” is about as circular a statement as a person could make. The idea of sex being regarded the property of men is a strange one, given that the Church instituted the idea of consensual marriage and the fact that there are a billion or more Christians running around these days. Most of them weren’t conceived in a petri dish ya know. Again, if you’re interested in an actual exchange, I suggest reading up on John Paul  II’s theology of the body. And please name these “theological luminaries” who have unambiguously declared that the destruction of an embryo is in any situation moral.

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