University of Maryland students can now pick up free emergency contraceptive pills at the University Health Center following an initiative by the SGA and student health advisory committee.

The pilot program, which will last for the next two years, is fully funded by the Student Government Association. The SGA allocated $16,000 to the health center in April to cover the cost of emergency contraception for students. 

Emergency contraceptive pills have historically been expensive, and students say that having the products free of charge not only encourages safe and protected sex, but it also makes it easier to receive emergency assistance in instances of sexual assault or reproductive coercion. 

The pills, such as Plan B One-Step, cost $15 at campus shops, and retail pharmacies usually sell the pills for around $50.

“By removing that financial barrier, you can prevent a lot of unintended pregnancies,” said Umailla Fatima, the president of the student health advisory committee and a senior biology and public policy major.

Since the program is only in its pilot period, students can only access the free products when the health center is open. The center is closed on Sundays and open for three hours on Saturdays.

“Ideally, we would be able to offer this 24/7 to all students, but right now, we don’t have the capacity to do that,” Fatima said.

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Ashley Deng, the SGA health and wellness director, is working with Fatima and Jenna Messman, the sexual health program coordinator at the health center, to ensure students take advantage of this resource. The goal, the students said, is to have the university or a grant fund the program in the future. 

“We’ve already seen that they do take advantage of it when it’s in the campus shops,” said Deng, a junior neuroscience major. “When people see that it’s free at the UHC … hopefully, it motivates them to go to the University Health Center and check it out.” 

When researching the topic, Deng found that 1,200 units of emergency contraceptives were purchased at campus stores last year while only 30 percent of the student body was on campus. 

“It really brings to light the demonstrated need of this resource,” she said. 

Messman hopes this initiative will increase student awareness about other services at the health center such as free condoms, birth control consultations and $2 pregnancy tests.

Sometimes, purchasing emergency contraception can come with a lot of embarrassment, said senior communication major Nicole O’Neill. 

“I’m really hoping that a lot of people do take advantage of it because it’s such a great resource,” she said. “I would really hope that [an] initiative like this…would also help dispel some shame or embarrassment that is around taking emergency contraception.” 

And Fatima also noted that if students didn’t feel comfortable asking outright for emergency contraceptives, there would be a flyer available for students to point to. 

“You can be discreet about it,” Fatima said. “You don’t have to say ‘Hi, I’d like free EC.’ You can literally just point out the flyer.” 

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Kayleigh Hasson, a senior criminology and criminal justice and economics major, was excited that the health center is taking steps to encourage safe and protected sex. 

Hasson also pointed out the need for emergency contraception could also occur outside of the health center’s scheduled hours. But Messman stressed students didn’t need to wait until an emergency to take advantage of the free emergency contraception. 

“It is available to all genders and without a prescription,” she said. “You could go on a Wednesday while we are open and get the free EC and have it on hand.” 

And the initiative could take off with support from students such as O’Neill and Hasson, who both want to see the program continue at this university. 

“It should become a permanent thing here,” O’Neill said.