A provision that would have required Illinois’ universities and community colleges to sell emergency contraceptives through at least one campus vending machine failed to make it into the final draft of the state’s latest abortion bill.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), an advocate for reproductive rights in Illinois, told Heartland Signal she considers this provision the “most significant thing that was taken out” of House Bill 4664 before Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed it into law last week.
Cassidy led the House’s efforts to pass HB 4664, which expands access to reproductive and gender-affirming health care and protects out-of-state patients seeking an abortion from facing legal action. The bill maintains Illinois’ status as a haven for reproductive justice amid a sea of red Midwestern states, a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last June that stripped away constitutional protections for abortion.
Emergency contraceptive vending machines were included as part of HB 4664 when the House initially passed it earlier this month, but the bill then went through several revisions in the Senate. Cassidy said she didn’t get an explanation as to why the Senate removed emergency contraceptive vending machines from the bill, aside from them “just not liking” the idea.
Illinois Democrats have been fighting for these vending machines ever since Rep. Barbara Hernandez (D-Aurora) introduced legislation in December 2021 to bring them to college campuses. House Bill 4247 passed overwhelmingly in the House last March but failed to pass further when it moved to the Senate for review.
Cassidy said Democrats will bring back the fight for HB 4247 during this new legislative session, and that she is confident the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago), is committed to moving it forward this year.
Neither Hernandez nor Villanueva responded to questions about their plans to continue advocating for HB 4247, which the House Higher Education Committee heavily debated in a hearing held last February. Much of the discussion on both sides centered around misconceptions about how emergency contraceptives work.
Emergency contraceptives like Plan B One-Step, Take Action, AfterPill, My Way and Preventeza are meant to prevent ovulation and fertilization by stopping or delaying the ovary’s release of an egg. They lower chances of pregnancy by 75-89% if taken within three days after unprotected sex (though the sooner the better, Planned Parenthood’s website states). The FDA changed Plan B’s packaging in December to clarify that the pill does not cause abortions or harm an existing pregnancy, which many anti-abortion groups mistakenly claim. One such anti-abortion group is Students for Life, which mobilized their members with a lobby day at the Illinois House last March in an attempt to block the bill.
Kelly Cleland, executive director of the American Society for Emergency Contraception (ASEC), testified in support of the bill during last February’s hearing, and she said she has heard many of the bill’s opposers mistakenly conflate emergency contraceptives with medicated abortion.
“Opposition to emergency contraception is often based on lack of understanding to what it is and how it works,” Cleland told Heartland Signal. “It’s also part of the general stream of conservatism that’s going to be against any kind of sexual and reproductive healthcare in this post-Dobbs world.”
Marie Khan, director of operations for the Midwest Action Coalition (MAC), said she’s heard college administrators from various campuses voice their belief that emergency contraceptives are too dangerous to have accessible to students.
“In reality, we know that it’s Tylenol and other medications that in fact are ‘dangerous,’” Khan said. “We have provisions like the Clery Act that are concerned with campus security reporting and transparency after the fact. How about we have actual resources in place on campuses for students to be empowered?”
Sarah Garza Resnick, CEO of the Illinois pro-abortion access organization Personal PAC, believes that educating people on how emergency contraceptives work — though it may take some time, she said — will be enough to push the bill forward in Illinois. “I do believe this will get over the hurdle in the legislature this year,” she told Heartland Signal.
Before the bill gets introduced again, Cleland said she would like to see improvements made to the legislation in terms of how these vending machines are actually implemented on college campuses, addressing issues concerning cost, accessibility and privacy.
She said ASEC is currently working on providing such guidelines for legislators who want to introduce these types of bills in their states — including suggestions like lowering the maximum cost from $40 to $12 or less — and ensuring these machines are located in a place that students can access with some amount of privacy. The machines should also be stocked with other products like masks, pregnancy tests and allergy medication to make students’ purchases appear more discreet.
The ideal location for these machines would also be in a building that is open 24/7, so that students can access emergency contraceptives as soon as they need them, even during times when the student health center or pharmacies may not be open. “Any barriers to access increase the risk of pregnancy,” Cleland said.
Khan, who oversees MAC’s online emergency contraceptives request form, said getting emergency contraceptives to college students who fill out the form is “always a unique challenge.” She’s sent the medication through Amazon, or Instacart for students in bigger towns, but some campus mail rooms will lose packages or compromise students’ privacy.
“People should not be having to submit a form online and hoping they will get support, when a stocked vending machine could alleviate so many concerns and deliver medication fast,” Khan said.
Student activists across the country have spent years organizing to bring these vending machines to their campuses ever since Pennsylvania’s Shippensburg University became one of the first to do so in 2012, when a survey found that 85% of students supported the idea. Other schools that have followed since include Stanford, Northeastern, Tufts, UC Davis, Boston University and the University of Florida.
“We really want to encourage Illinois to move this forward and encourage other states to pass this kind of legislation, because it can be done,” Cleland said. “It’s already happening across the country.”
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February 2, 2023 at 04:24PM