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Advocates launch free contraceptive vending machine, hope to expand project statewide

An artist squatting near a stocked vending machine with the word "free" painted on the front.
Provided by Melissa Gruver
The organizations worked with local artists to paint the outside of the vending machine to celebrate the community that it’s in.

Several organizations in Indiana launched a vending machine that provides free emergency contraception in response to growing concerns about access to reproductive care. The organizations plan to expand the project throughout the state.

Indiana Task FORCE, All-Options and Midwest Access Coalition partnered with Dear Mom – a local business in Indianapolis – to stock the vending machine with emergency contraception. The machine will also have other resources such as harm reduction tools and political education materials.

Melissa Gruver, the state organizing director for Indiana Task FORCE, said in addition to providing these important resources, this project establishes a space for people to gather around the topics that they care about.

“It's about connecting us to one another, reminding us that we're meant to create things, and so we can create community and we can create an Indiana where everybody can thrive,” Gruver said.

She said the project was designed to improve access, while empowering people and communities. Volunteers make sure that the machine is always stocked with things like condoms, pregnancy tests, Narcan, fentanyl test strips and more.

“Anybody can come in, walk up to the vending machine, pick out, push the button for the item that they are wanting to get, and then they just grab it and go,” Gruver said. “The machines don't accept any money and will never accept money because everything that's in there will always be free.”

The organizations also want to make sure that the machine is something exciting to engage with, instead of a “transactional, sterile experience.” The machine will also have someone called a “cultural worker” who is in charge of making sure the machine has things like zines and stickers to make it feel like a “creative community endeavor.”

Gruver said they even worked with local artists to paint the outside of the vending machine to celebrate the community that it’s in.

“There's only excitement around getting the thing that you need when you need it,” Gruver said.

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Along with the launch of the vending machine, the organizations hosted a webinar for college students and administrators who may want to launch similar projects around the state.

Gruver said students are coming from different states with varying laws around reproductive care, so having a space where they can go to learn and get resources is vital.

“It's so important to make sure that folks know their rights,” Gruver said. “Especially, college students know what their rights are here, and how they can work within those to get the things that they need.”

Gruver said people should have the ability to make informed decisions, and this vending machines provide them with tools to make those decisions.

“It's really important because abortions are highly restricted and banned in the state of Indiana,” Gruver said. “We need to be able to have access to things like birth control, condoms, emergency contraceptives to reduce the cause of an unwanted pregnancy, unintended pregnancy as well.”

These organizations are already working on a second vending machine in Lafayette, but are working around the state to expand these resources through partnerships built with community members and leaders.

Abigail is our health reporter. Contact them at aruhman@wboi.org.

Abigail Ruhman covers statewide health issues. Previously, they were a reporter for KBIA, the public radio station in Columbia, Missouri. Ruhman graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.