updated 8/12/2004 4:57:00 PM ET 2004-08-12T20:57:00

At Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, a computer kiosk that looks like a small automated teller machine sits just off a student lounge between a standard ATM and a copier.

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But this kiosk doesn’t dispense cash or make copies. It has a much more personal function — one that has outraged some conservatives.

For a clue, the screen flashes “Birth Control Supplies and Services.”

The kiosk is one of three at state college campuses that allow women as young as 15 to mail order free condoms and birth control pills. A family planning group is testing the machines and state officials are intrigued.

To use the kiosk, people punch in personal information, including their monthly income and Social Security number and the authorization to release of their medical records.

The computer enrolls women in the state’s Medicaid Family Planning Waiver. The waiver, which began in January, allows women between the ages of 15 and 44 who make less than $17,224 a year to get contraceptives for free.

They can also use the computer to order either three months’ worth of contraceptive patches, three months’ worth of birth control pills or three dozen condoms through the mail. A nurse calls later to follow up.

Family Planning Health Services of Wausau hopes to generate enough interest that the state, local health departments and employers with underinsured workers will borrow, rent or buy the kiosks.

Executive director Lon Newman said the machines will make it easier to get the word out about the waiver. About 48,000 women had enrolled in the program at the end of June — about 11.5 percent of 300,000 eligible women, according to state figures.

Critics argue kiosks promote sex
But some conservatives are outraged at the use of the kiosks, saying easy-access condoms and birth control pills promote sex.

“This program is for girls as young as 15, which is ridiculous,” said state Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Republican. “Ostentatious displays of these kiosks unfortunately encourages the perception that promiscuity is the norm.”

Kelda Helen Roys, executive director of Pro-Choice Wisconsin, on the other hand, called the kiosks a great tool to control pregnancies and blasted Republican legislators.

“Their extreme ideology just completely trumps their sense of social good and common sense,” she said.

State officials are watching the experiment because it could help save the state money by reducing the number of pregnancies covered by Medicaid. “We’ll be very interested in consumer reaction to it,” said Jim Malone, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Family Services.

Student Angela Mallum, 20, of Mosinee, said she thinks using the machine would be easier than going to the family planning office. But she doubts many students will take advantage of it because it offers no privacy. “People can watch you do it because it is out in the open,” she said.

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