For many students, access to abortion-related health care is essential to furthering their education, but unnecessary barriers place a heavy burden on students seeking such care.
Legislation recently introduced by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, and Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, would reduce those barriers. H2399/S1470 would ensure safe, equitable, and affordable access to abortion pills in public academic health centers in Massachusetts.
Abortion pills are a safe, effective and non-surgical method of ending a pregnancy within the first 10 weeks. Patients obtain pills from a medical provider, but take them home. Although student health insurance plans cover the cost of abortion in Massachusetts, campus health services do not provide this service. This forces students to travel off campus to obtain abortion pills, sometimes requiring them to travel long distances on public transportation due to the limited number of abortion providers in the state with large geographic gaps. University health centers could easily offer this service.
I researched the number of students likely to be affected by the lack of medical abortion services on campus and the burdens they experience. I found that between 40 and 64 students at public universities in Massachusetts get medical abortions each month. This represents 480 to 768 students each year. I then measured the distance from each of Massachusetts’ 13 public four-year college campuses to the nearest abortion clinic, and calculated the distance and travel times by public transportation between the campuses and the nearest clinics. relatives.
The results are that students must travel between 2 and 42 miles to obtain the abortion pill from off-campus clinics. If a student must use public transportation, it can take between 18 and 400 minutes one way to get to the nearest abortion clinic. Up to 93% of students at these universities were more than 30 minutes from the nearest abortion facility via public transportation.
Students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, for example, must travel 25 miles to reach the nearest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood of Western Massachusetts in Springfield. If they have to take public transport, the bus journey takes 2 hours and 18 minutes one way. Getting to the clinic, getting the health care they need, and getting the bus home takes almost an entire day — time few students have to spend between classes, jobs, and other activities. . And it is not necessary because abortion pills are safe to use, simple to administer and could be easily offered on campus.
The burden of forcing off-campus students to obtain abortion pills falls disproportionately on women, transgender and gender nonconforming students, low-income students, students of color, and those with disabilities. other family or professional responsibilities that require their time and finances. These students are less likely to have the resources to travel long distances to get the health care they need.
Increasing access to medical abortion is essential for gender equity as well as racial and economic justice for Massachusetts students. According to the Guttmacher Institute, almost 40% of women who seek health care for abortion do so because having a child would harm their education. Research shows that access to contraception and abortion improves women’s educational attainment. Women who have a child while in college are less likely to graduate than those who don’t, and 89% of students say having a child while in college would make it harder to achieve their goals.
Although telemedicine abortion is now available in Massachusetts, the ability to receive in-person care on campus should also be available to all students. Students deserve to have a familiar place to access the abortion health care they need with nurses and doctors they already know and who have their medical records. Students shouldn’t have to get on buses and travel long distances to pick up abortion pills from strangers.
And they shouldn’t have to seek out abortion clinics to get the health care they need. On-campus health services vary in the amount of information they provide on how to find off-campus abortion health care, often requiring students to find ways to seek care on their own. This puts students at increased risk of approaching one of the many anti-abortion centers posing as reproductive health clinics that target students, delaying or even preventing access to real care. health.
In 2019, California passed a law requiring public universities to offer abortion pills. Massachusetts should do the same. This law would ensure that our public university students can access this safe medicine without undue barriers. If you believe that people should have the right to control their own bodies and make the choices that are best for them without undue burden, please support this bill. It’s a step toward greater gender equity for Massachusetts students.
Carrie N. Baker is a professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Smith College and editor of Ms. Magazine.