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We brought an emergency contraception vending machine to Northeastern: why this matters and what comes next

Welcome to the new Northeastern University, where getting condoms and emergency contraception is as easy as getting Skittles or a bottle of water – and we are so incredibly proud.

After months of advocacy and planning, Northeastern has finally approved and installed a new kind of vending machine on the first floor of Marino Gym: one focused on wellness. Products include free sexual health supplies, free menstrual products, low-cost medications like Advil and Tylenol, and perhaps most significantly, generic Plan B emergency contraceptive pills. These emergency contraceptives, that are only $7 in the vending machine, are not only more accessible to students and community members physically, but also much more affordable than the typical $40 to $50 prices at the average pharmacy. 

Emergency contraceptives are an effective, safe, and important medication that can be taken after unprotected sex or sex where protective measures may have failed. Before now, students could only get emergency contraceptives by making an appointment at the clinic or heading off campus. But times are changing. Offering these in the vending machine is breaking down a huge barrier to access.

It’s been a hit too. In just the first week, the entire vending machine was bought out and restocked twice, showing the critical need for these resources among students. Additionally, the discounted and free supplies aren’t just limited to Northeastern students. Anybody from our community can obtain these vital wellness resources at-will and at-need, in a building open at least 18 hours every day. 

The vending machine was installed in Marino partially due to advocacy from SHARE, the on-campus club for sexual health, advocacy, resources, and education. All of the above accessibility aspects are essential components to SHARE’s central goals for the vending machine: furthering reproductive justice and care in our community.

What is reproductive justice? Well, it’s more than just abortion rights, though that is one heavy focus in our current advocacy. Reproductive justice is a critical feminist framework that defends the human rights we all share: to maintain personal bodily autonomy, to have children, not to have children, and to grow up in safe and sustainable communities. It encompasses more than the political and legal spheres, but also the economic, social, and health factors that impact our collective and deeply personal reproductive and sexual choice abilities.

This framework guides everything we do in SHARE. Now, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June leading to a legal patchwork of abortion restrictions and reproductive care access across the country, students at Northeastern have access to an essential resource that we didn’t before. And that feels really good.

The work does not end though, and there is always more to be done. We are working to make sure that the vending machine is stocked and filled at all times to meet demand. Northeastern is also discussing establishing a similar wellness vending machine at the new Mills College and Charlotte campuses. Additionally, with the recent passage of Bill H.5090 through the Massachusetts legislature – which expands and protects reproductive and gender-affirming health care in the Commonwealth – SHARE and the university are in dialogue about how to bring medical abortion options to campus, a requirement placed upon public, higher-ed institutions in Massachusetts by the legislation. The work before us is exciting and more important than ever.

This reproductive justice victory is the culmination of months of advocacy and planning between SHARE, University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS) and the Office of Prevention and Education at Northeastern (OPEN). We are grateful for this partnership and grateful to every student who participated in efforts to make this vending machine a reality. And above all, we are beyond grateful that Northeastern community members now have the access to emergency contraception that every community deserves. Let’s keep up the fight.

NOTE: Students can also purchase the Emergency Contraception at the UHCS front desk during office hours or ask questions about the medication. UHCS also provides prescriptions for the Ella pill, an emergency contraceptive that has a more inclusive weight limit, if students make an appointment in the office.

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