ThxEC! The Power of Emergency Contraception Student Distribution Groups


ThxEC! The Power of Emergency Contraception Student Distribution Groups

Dana Donovan
November 19, 2020
An image of an emergency contraceptive pill and a glass of water.

Emergency contraception (EC) plays a key role in preventing unplanned pregnancies, particularly on college campuses. Unfortunately, it can be costly and difficult to access because university health centers may not carry it or they have limited hours, thereby restricting access. A growing number of college and university students are working to increase the availability of EC on their campuses by creating student-led, peer-to-peer distribution groups. Below, you’ll hear from a student founder of one such group, sharing her appreciation for EC, and from a reproductive health professional, sharing her appreciation for the students. 

ThxEC! A Student Founder Perspective

Imagine these scenarios: 

It’s Tuesday night in the middle of midterms season. You go to take your birth control pill and realize you forgot to take yesterday’s. You had sex this past weekend, so you figure it would probably be a good idea to take EC just to be safe. You take a break from studying to pick it up, but you end up going to two different pharmacies before you can even find it in stock.

It’s Sunday morning after a night out and you need some EC. You get to the pharmacy and the EC is locked up in a theft prevention box, so you have to find an associate to help you get it out. While the associate is fiddling around with the lock, your vague acquaintance from class rounds the corner. They awkwardly say hello and give you a pitiful look when they realize what’s happening. 

It’s Friday afternoon and you’re at the pharmacy with your partner to buy some EC. You stare at that $50 price tag for that one tiny little pill and wonder if you should just risk it instead. Luckily your partner agrees to split the cost with you, but you spend the walk home calculating where you can make cuts in your budget for the week to make up for it.

These situations used to be reality for many students on my urban campus. Emergency contraception is basic reproductive health care and getting it should be an easy experience, free of cost, and free from stigma and shame. Yet for all the resources my progressive campus offered, this basic reproductive health necessity remained inaccessible. 

Other student organizers and I recognized the need for more accessible EC and we sought university support. We pushed for vending machines in dorms to be stocked with EC and we asked that the campus health center be open on weekends. Unfortunately, our requests were met with delays or inaction. So, we found a way to support ourselves. 

Following the lead of student organizers on other campuses, we explored starting a network of students to distribute EC, independent of the university. We reached out to our peers at other universities to guide us in designing our operating procedures. We called every local reproductive health clinic in the area to secure free donations of EC in bulk. And finally, we collaborated with reproductive health professionals in the area to train us on everything we needed to know about EC. 

After six months of planning, Foggy Bottom Plan B, a completely independent, student-run organization dedicated to providing free EC to anyone in the neighborhood, began operations. Our goal is to combat the financial and social barriers of getting EC by providing it to anyone for free and on demand. Instead of navigating the social scene of the pharmacy and sinking $50 on a single pill, anyone can contact FBPlanB through an anonymous Google Form to get free EC privately delivered to them by one of our distributors in less than 12 hours. 

It’s been almost two years since FBPlanB delivered its first dose of EC, and in that time, we’ve given out nearly 300 more doses. That’s almost $15,000 worth of EC that we’ve distributed for free. I’m proud to say that when our reproductive health needs weren’t met by the systems that we were part of, we organized, and we met our needs ourselves.

Thx EC Distributors! A Reproductive Health Professional’s Perspective

When stories like Dana’s are shared in the news, the response I hear often is, “Young people are going to save us all!” The phrase makes me both hesitant and hopeful. Although I don’t believe in putting the burden of “saving the world” solely on the shoulders of young people, I have been fortunate enough to see this group of young people, and others, accomplish incredible things in the field of sexual and reproductive health. Peer-to-peer EC distribution groups, like the one Dana and her co-organizers began, are a perfect example of that. 

I’ve worked in reproductive health for 15 years and the young people that put this distribution group together are some of the most passionate, committed, and optimistic young people I have ever met. They identified a need, sought institutional support, and when they didn’t get it, they adapted and as Dana said, figured out how to support themselves. I know they aren’t likely to highlight the hard work that they’ve put into this effort because I also know how humble they are. But I couldn’t let this #ThxBirthControl! day go by without recognizing everything that they, and other peer-to-peer distributors across the country, have done to increase access to EC on college campuses. They are truly incredible, and I am fortunate, and humbled, to be able to be even a small part of their story. To each of you, I proudly say, Thanks, EC Distributors! 

Dana Donovan is a senior at a medium-sized university, majoring in Public Health. She is passionate about reproductive health and rights and has a leadership role in various sexual and reproductive health groups on her campus.