A Montgomery County delegate is sponsoring a bill that would make over-the-counter forms of emergency contraception available on college campuses throughout the state 24/7.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Maricé Morales, would require university health centers to provide "on-site access to specified emergency contraception" during regular hours of operation. The bill also calls for health centers to provide contraceptive counseling or referrals to other health care providers, and requires colleges and universities to ensure around-the-clock access to over-the-counter emergency contraception, also known as the "morning after pill."
If a student in Maryland needs emergency contraception, "they should be able to have access to it 24 hours a day," Morales said. "A forward-thinking state that understands kind of the day to day of a college campus student … should have that access, especially at a time when we don't know how health care and access to reproductive health care is going to be affected by what's going on at the national level."
Donald Trump's election and Republican control of Congress has raised concerns about the future of reproductive health — as Trump and party leaders have called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which subsidizes birth control in some cases, and defunding Planned Parenthood.
The proposed legislation is "necessarily vague" so institutions can tailor the policy to serve their student populations, said Annaliese Johnson, an organizer with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland. While colleges and universities may not be able to afford staffing and operating a student center 24/7, Johnson said they can provide emergency contraception in other ways while the center is closed.
Schools in other states — such as California's Pomona College and Shippensburg University, located in Pennsylvania about 30 miles north of the Maryland border — provide emergency contraception in vending machines, Johnson said.
"People don't just have sex during regular business hours, Monday through Friday," she said.
One student group at St. Mary's College has discussed stocking these machines with other health products like ibuprofen, pads, tampons and condoms as well as snacks to make their use less stigmatizing, she added.
Because Plan B is available without a prescription, a 24-hour university convenience store may also opt to "have it accessible next to the aspirin," said Diana Philip, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland executive director.
Currently, University of Maryland students can buy a generic version of Plan B emergency contraception at a discounted rate at the University Health Center pharmacy, said Jenna Messman, the health center's sexual health coordinator. The pill is available without a prescription and costs $15, compared to $40 or $50 at other local pharmacies, Messman said. Students can also receive a prescription for Ella, a more effective type of emergency contraception, with a health center office visit.
The health center pharmacy is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m, according to the health center's website. More information about different contraceptive methods are available on the health center website.
"We are committed to providing the best services that we can to students," Messman said. "We also really want students to be informed about all of the various options and not necessarily to be feeling coerced into making decisions that they wouldn't necessarily want to make, but rather being informed and empowered by those decisions."
At times when the health center is closed, emergency contraception is available at several local 24-hour pharmacies, David McBride, director of the health center, wrote in an email. The center also provides contraceptive counseling through health promotions and wellness and its primary care and women's health providers, McBride wrote. The health center also provides contraception such as free condoms while it's open."We could improve our promotion of the availability of [emergency contraception]," McBride wrote.
At other institutions, students need to drive to their nearest off-campus pharmacy if the health center is closed or does not offer emergency contraception, and not all students have cars, Philip said. Colleges may also require appointments to receive emergency contraception in some cases, she added. Bowie State University, for example, does not offer emergency contraception on site, and refers students to local pharmacies.
Despite the availability of emergency contraception on and near this campus, the university would still need to make some adjustments under this bill, Philip said. Emergency contraception is much more expensive at off-campus pharmacies, which can pose a financial hardship if the health center is closed and a student needs to take a pill as quickly as possible, she said. The Maryland Contraceptive Equity Act, which was signed into law in May and goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, will require health insurers in the state to cover emergency contraceptives at no cost.
The bill would also help sexual assault survivors across the state access emergency contraception more easily when their campus health centers are closed, said Alanna DeLeon, president of this university's Preventing Sexual Assault and a senior community health major. If a center is closed for the weekend, survivors shouldn't have to go out of their way to prevent a pregnancy after being sexually assaulted, DeLeon said.
"I know that a lot of people need this just for reproductive care," DeLeon said. "This is something that as women we should be able to have access to."
PSA is working to gather written testimonials in support of the bill, DeLeon said. The SGA also plans to consider a bill this semester supporting the General Assembly measure, said SGA President Katherine Swanson.
The cost to universities is "the No. 1 counter argument" against providing emergency contraception 24/7, Morales said. But she said "that's just something that you have to deal with when you have good public policy."
"This isn't something that's going to make a campus go bankrupt, especially with incredible high tuition even for in state institutions," she said.
The House of Delegates appropriations and health and government operations committees will examine the bill. Committee hearings have not yet been scheduled.