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Emergency contraceptive pill distribution service aims to improve campus sexual health

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Photos courtesy of Adobe Stock.

UNC junior Laura Saavedra Forero said she is willing to put things on hold to make time-sensitive deliveries across campus of emergency contraceptive pills, which should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.

A former co-president of the Campus Y, Saavedra Forero receives texts from students seeking free emergency contraception pills at a phone number posted on the Campus Y’s Instagram. After an individual reaches out, she said she coordinates a drop-off that meets any needs the person may have, whether that is anonymity or leaving the package at a specific location.

Project goal

Saavedra Forero said the emergency contraceptive pill distribution project started in the 2022-23 academic year as a very personal thing, which she operated and publicized mostly through word of mouth.

The initiative is now incorporated as part of a larger mutual aid effort based out of the Campus Y that includes a pantry stocked with non-perishable food items located on the third floor of the Campus Y building. Free condoms and menstrual products are also made available in the third-floor bathroom. 

Saavedra Forero said recent abortion bans fill her with the rage necessary to continue doing the distribution work.

“College campuses are especially an important place where we need to make sure that we have different things that promote sexual health and being safe and enhance reproductive justice as a whole,” she said.

Saavedra Forero also said there was initially hesitancy surrounding the initiative, especially concerning the response by the University's administration. 

“Which is why I kind of took it upon myself to do it, knowing that if there was any retaliation, I would deal with that,” she said.

Accessibility and operation 

Saavedra Forero said she started the program with an initial donation of emergency contraceptive pills from Charlotte for Choice, a reproductive justice organization she volunteers with that operates a similar mutual aid effort in Charlotte. 

The name-brand Plan B emergency contraceptive pill costs approximately $50 over the counter. Emergency contraceptive pills can also be purchased for $11 in three Healthy Heels To Go vending machines across campus.

Kristy Kelly, the administrative director of Charlotte for Choice, said the price may be unattainable for some students. She also said it is important for students who may not feel safe purchasing emergency contraceptives to have a point of contact.

“Ideally, the more sexual health products and services we can get into people's hands, the better,” Kelly said. “People deserve access to that and hopefully it can make them able to make choices that are best for their health.”

In addition to continued donations from Charlotte for Choice, UNC’s chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action serves as a liaison for getting donations of contraceptive pills to the Campus Y, Imani Rankins, a senior and current co-president of the Campus Y, said.

“There was no involvement from our [Campus Y full-time employees] or anything in the distribution of medications or any type of resources regarding reproductive health,” Rankins said. “That's something that individual students carry out anonymously.”

University and external funding

Rankins said there are a lot of restrictions when it comes to purchasing mutual aid items with the Campus Y’s endowed fund — The Anne Queen Social Justice Fund — operated through the University. She also said University rules for the Campus Y's finances can be confusing and are not all concretely laid out.

Campus Y financial advisers and officers recommended to student leadership that they should avoid purchasing other mutual aid items such as toiletries with the endowed fund, Rankins said. Instead, those items are purchased with an account that the Campus Y holds independently from the University.

Rankins said the Campus Y’s separate account is funded primarily by fundraisers, as well as individual donors and The Meantime Coffee Co. 

“I think that there should be more flexibility in how we're able to use our funding to better support students,” Rankins said. 

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She added that the Campus Y's position as an institution entwined with state funds and a lot of bureaucracies influences its abilities.

“[Mutual aid is] not charity by any means,” Saavedra Forero said. “It’s solidarity; it’s a way of showing that by taking care of our community, we’re usually benefiting each other and everyone involved.”

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