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After attending a conference and learning about health and wellness vending machines on college campuses dispensing nonprescription drugs, including emergency contraception, student activists at the University of Southern Maine began working to bring the vending machines to Maine culminating in the passage of LD 37, sponsored by Rep. Mo Terry of Gorham, a new law that aligns Maine with multiple other states that allow the sale of nonprescription medicine through vending machines.

“Maine is a large, rural state with multiple challenges delivering health care to people in their communities. This is particularly problematic with time-sensitive medication like Emergency Contraception, birth control that is most effective when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex,” said Nicole Clegg, Vice President of Public Policy for the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund. “Wellness vending machines dispensing nonprescription medicines like emergency contraception and painkillers will increase the availability of care for Mainers, especially people with low-incomes, young people, and people in rural areas.”

While wellness vending machines can dispense a variety over the counter medicine including pain relievers, cold medication, allergy treatments, and stomach medicine, with the college sexual assault crisis, the increased access to Emergency Contraception is particularly important on college campuses where nearly 1 in 4 undergraduate women experience rape or sexual violence.

“Of all the complex feelings that a survivor faces in the immediate moments after a sexual assault, for many survivors, fear of pregnancy is one of them. Along with that can come feelings of fear, self-blame, confusion, and more. Confidential access to affordable emergency contraception at any hour allows survivors to make a safe decision to protect themselves from a potential pregnancy,” said Emma Donnelly, a student leader at USM who initially requested a wellness vending machine on campus.

Emergency Contraception is birth control taking to prevent pregnancy after sexual assault or unprotected sex. It has been available for people of all ages over the counter (i.e. without a prescription or pharmacist approval) since 2013.

Despite the elimination of restrictions to accessing EC, a 2017 survey revealed 40% of stores did not have Emergency Contraception on the shelf. This lack of access to care disproportionately impacts people of color, people with low incomes, people in rural areas, and young people.

LD 37 will take effect in September, 90 days after the legislature adjourned.