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AN INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER SERVING THE GW COMMUNITY SINCE 1904

The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Op-ed: GW can and must do better to provide accessible reproductive health care

Laila Salaam is a senior majoring in international affairs and Maddy Niziolek is a first-year Master of Public Administration student with a focus in health and gender policy. Salaam and Niziolek are co-presidents of GW Reproductive Autonomy and Gender Equity.

As the primary reproductive justice student organization at the University, GW RAGE has been at the forefront of campus advocacy since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, stripping millions of Americans of the right to access abortion. But the University’s only response to the greatest rollback of civil rights in our generation was to install a Plan B vending machine in the University Student Center in January. The vending machine is neither affordable nor accessible and does not address the larger problem of insufficient reproductive health care resources at GW.

We are petitioning GW to make the vending machine accessible 24/7, reduce the cost of its Plan B from $30 to $7 and include student organizations in the development of campus initiatives that are relevant to their missions. You can sign the petition at tinyurl.com/gwplanb and follow along @gw.rage. GW can and must do better to provide reproductive health care on campus, and more than 500 students, 20 professors and 39 student organizations who have signed our petition agree.

At $30, the Plan B in the vending machine is the same price as the generic Plan B at the CVS across the street. Other universities have been able to provide Plan B for a significantly reduced cost – Northeastern University sells Plan B for $7 and Boston University sells Plan B for $7.25 in their respective contraceptive vending machines. GW’s vending machine is not even available when the student center is closed from midnight to 7 a.m., a time when students may need to urgently access Plan B. The Mount Vernon Campus has no vending machine, meaning the closest option for Vern residents is an off-campus, non-24/7 CVS about half a mile away.

Other methods for students to get affordable, accessible Plan B on campus have already been in place for years. The student-led reproductive health care advocacy organization Foggy Bottom Plan B, one of our partner groups, already provides free Plan B to students through confidential peer-to-peer delivery. Founded by GW students in 2019, FBPB runs completely on donations and works with Carafem, an abortion and reproductive health care clinic, to get Plan B at a reduced cost that allows FBPB to distribute more pills for free.

Students can get free Plan B confidentially from FBPB via a Google Form at fbplanb.com, and more than 50 students have requested Plan B from FBPB through that form since officials installed the vending machine. Some students have told distributors like ourselves they sought out FBPB’s services because the vending machine is not affordable.

Students shouldn’t have to fund their own reproductive health care, especially not at one of the most expensive universities in the country with a $2.4 billion endowment. Students also shouldn’t have to spend their time or risk their safety to provide basic reproductive health care to their peers. FBPB’s confidential hand-off system requires distributors to meet with strangers – both students and other people in Foggy Bottom – with unknown intentions on and off campus at any time of the day. This routine becomes increasingly dangerous as abortion providers and abortion-rights supporters face a rise in violence, stalking, harassment and assault for providing reproductive health care.

The University has rejected FBPB’s attempts to become a student organization in both 2019 and 2023, citing liability concerns about students distributing over-the-counter medication. But FBPB distributors require each recipient of Plan B to sign a liability waiver upon receipt of the medication. Recognized student organization status would give FBPB a secure presence on campus and funding, two things it needs to ensure there is always accessible Plan B on campus if GW cannot commit to improving the vending machine.

Plan B is also available for free at the Student Health Center for students who are on GW’s Student Health Insurance Plan, but a majority of students at GW are not enrolled on SHIP. Obtaining Plan B through SHIP also requires students to get an appointment, which undermines the effectiveness of Plan B – it works best if taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. And students who get Plan B through their parents’ insurance risk their parents finding out about their sexual activity.

GW has made it abundantly clear it has no interest in funding the reproductive health care students deserve. Do they consider access to health care too controversial for the University to fund? GW does not subsidize the cost of any products in the machine, which are donated by Vengo – the company that installed the vending machine in the student center, according to Assistant Dean of Student Life Brian Joyce. We met with Joyce in February after we released a statement in response to the vending machine in January. Dean of Students Colette Coleman reiterated that information last month in her response to our petition for officials to make the vending machine more affordable and accessible. We followed up with officials the next day about the potential for additional machines on campus to be stocked with more affordable Plan B, and they have still not replied weeks later.

To be clear, there are also ways for GW to provide Plan B at a lower cost without subsidizing it. The same brand of emergency contraception in the vending machine is available to purchase on Amazon for $19.95. There are other generic brands of Plan B that frequently retail for under $10 that could go in the vending machine – FBPB gets Plan B pills for $10 from Carafem, and the University could do the same.

GW has ignored the concerns about the vending machine students have brought to its attention, instead highlighting the incremental change the machine represents in our discussions. Officials have not met with GW RAGE despite multiple requests since we sent them our petition last month, and they have repeatedly ignored our calls for change with their inaction.

GW RAGE remains undeterred, and we will continue fighting for access to all reproductive health care on campus as we have done since 2009. We have organized student protests, provided free sexual health materials and information, kept students up to date on the status of abortion access, fundraised for local abortion funds, created resource guides for students and developed a training series for reproductive justice student organizers. We encourage you to join us.

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