Offering abortion pills on campus could eliminate access limits, students say

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(NEW YORK) – Colleges and universities offering the abortion pill on campus could help reduce barriers to accessing abortion care, even in states that currently have protections for such care, say student advocates the right to abortion.

Students in California and New York told ABC News that increasing access points of care, such as requiring schools to provide medical abortions, would likely go a long way to easing the burden on clinics that are overwhelmed with patients from other states.

A 2019 law signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom will require state colleges and universities to provide abortion pills on campus beginning January 1. This summer, Massachusetts also enacted a law requiring public universities to submit a plan to provide medical abortions on campus by November 2023.

A similar bill is in the works in New York State. This would require all student health centers on college and university campuses across the state to provide free medical abortion services.

The University of California at Berkeley already offers medical abortions at its student health center for pregnancies up to 10 weeks. Recently, Barnard College, an all-women’s school in New York, announced that it would offer medical abortions starting in the fall of 2023.

Barnard’s decision came after more than two years of pressure from student groups on campus, led by a group called the Reproductive Justice Collective.

The RJC saw a need for access to abortion pills on campus for three main reasons: overwhelmed New York abortion clinics; the high cost of abortion care; and the long commutes to off-campus clinics, Barnard student and RJC activist Niharika Rao told ABC News in an interview.

Rao said clinics in New York are overwhelmed and have long wait times, with many patients traveling from Pennsylvania and Ohio for care. Long wait times can often lead to patients needing more complicated and expensive abortion care.

Medical abortion is approved by the Food and Drug Administration up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, but some studies have shown it to be an effective method of abortion up to 11 weeks.

The closest Planned Parenthood clinic to the Barnard campus is 40 minutes away by train, according to Rao.

Rao said many students hope abortion services at Barnard will be subsidized by the university and be more affordable for students than care at clinics not affiliated with the school.

“If students who obviously go to Planned Parenthoods can now access that kind of care on campus, then hopefully that will reduce the load on [New York’s] clinics. We also hope this will reduce funding pressure on our abortion funds,” Rao said.

The RJC also advocates for medical abortion to be available on campus for students at other New York schools, including Columbia University, New York University, and schools in the CUNY system.

Even in states like New York that protect the right to abortion, “very real barriers to care and access still exist, despite the fact that abortion is completely legal. And if we want to be some sort of pro-choice, pro-abortion state, we need to reconcile and overcome these obstacles,” Rao said.

When campuses require a student to leave campus for care, it often means they miss school, miss homework, have to pay for travel, have to miss jobs or internships, according to Tamara Marzouk, director of the access to abortion at Advocates for Youth, a non-profit that helps young people, including the RJC, to organize around reproductive justice issues.

While California is a state that protects the right to abortion, college students told ABC News that similar barriers to abortion care also exist there.

Abortion care offered on campus would especially make a difference for undergraduates who may not have local providers they trust or transportation to take them to off-campus services, MacKenna Rawlins, a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, and the vice president of external affairs for the school’s graduate and professional student association, told ABC News.

That being said, Rawlins said she didn’t see much student activism surrounding abortion care on her campus after Roe’s fall, which she largely attributes to the perceived “safety net.” of life in California, where there are protections for the right to abortion. .

Lauren Adams, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, told ABC News that she feels supported by her university but also recognizes her responsibility to demand more protections and fight for women in other states. where the right to abortion is suppressed.

Students in nearly 30 states staged protests earlier this month demanding that their universities step in and protect their reproductive rights, months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending federal abortion rights protections.

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