A central Pennsylvania college is surprised to find itself the center of media attention this week simply for selling Plan B, the so-called morning-after pill, from a vending machine.
After all, the machine has offered the pills for at least two years, said Peter Gigliotti, spokesman for Shippensburg University, a public school about 40 miles southwest of Harrisburg.
"This is nothing new," he said. "I have no idea why it's getting the reaction it's getting now."
But women's reproductive health has been a hot topic of late, and an Associated Press story on the vending machine was bound to get noticed.
Much is being made of the Obama administration's requirement that even Catholic organizations provide contraception coverage to employees via their health plans. The requirement has drawn sharp criticism from some corners, and signs of support from others.
On Tuesday, a Public Policy Polling survey conducted for Planned Parenthood reported that 56% of voters agreed that health plans should cover the cost of contraceptives. Further, it found, a majority of voters said Catholic institutions should not be exempted from the requirement.
And last week, Susan G. Komen for the Cure suffered a public relations debacle of epic proportions when the cancer group pulled funding from Planned Parenthood, a move many say was motivated by the healthcare organization's support for abortion services.
Gigliotti said the vending machine was installed at the urging of the school's student government after a survey found that 85% of students supported the effort.
"We value student input on matters that directly pertain to their health and safety, so these results were an important part of the decision-making process," he wrote in a statement.
The vending machine, which also dispenses condoms and pregnancy tests, is in a private room at the college's student clinic and is accessible only by students -- all of whom are 17 or older, the age at which Plan B is available without a prescription.
"The university is not encouraging anyone to be sexually active," Gigliotti said in a statement. "The university does strongly encourage all students to make wise and appropriate decisions in their lives, but we have no way to ensure that happens."
The school does not subsidize the cost of the drug, which sells at $25 a pop.
A message to the school's student senate was not immediately returned.
-- Ricardo Lopez
Photo: A handout photo of a package of Plan B, a formulation of levonorgestrel.