Abortion pills will soon be readily and inexpensively available to students at the University of California and California State University under a state law to expand access to drugs for students, a decision that could become a flashpoint for anti-abortion groups that pledge to challenge it.
The pills will be available at campus medical centers beginning Jan. 1, 2023, when a 2019 law takes effect making California the first state in the nation to require public universities to offer the pills. The decision further bolsters California’s efforts to become a haven for abortion care — specifically serving a population whose age group accounts for the majority of terminated pregnancies. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, about 60 percent of abortion patients are in their 20s.
“We knew it was important then, but it’s even more important now,” said State Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino), who drafted the bill. “Now I think it offers bigger ramifications.”
Only a few colleges outside California, including the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Illinois at Chicago, have made or plan to make the drugs available to students, but advocacy groups at abortion hope the new law will be a model for other states. . According to a 2018 report from UC San Francisco, up to 6,228 UC and CSU students seek medical abortion each year.
A medical abortion is a non-surgical way to end a pregnancy that involves taking two prescription pills hours apart during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy to induce a miscarriage. It is different from the morning after pill, which releases a high dose of a synthetic hormone found in birth control pills that delays or stops the release of an egg.
Anti-abortion groups that had campaigned against the California law said their fight was far from over. Emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade case, the groups intend to monitor how the new service is unveiled and how students are affected by the drugs. Some said they had already retained the services of lawyers to be on the lookout for an opportunity to challenge the law.
The 2019 law was sparked by a grassroots student effort at UC Berkeley, but quickly spread to other public universities in the state. The timing of the law means the UC and CSU will expand access to the pill as California abortion clinics grapple with a surge in demand for abortion care across the country. out of state.
“Not only is this going to be important for college students on campus, but it now frees up space for other women from other states who are going to come in for abortions,” Leyva said.
University officials, however, are already raising questions about how the changing legal landscape might affect their law enforcement plans. Will the other states that have floated the idea of banning travel for abortion have an impact in California? What if a California student asks for abortion pills at his campus health center during a home visit in a state that has banned the practice?
Six states have banned abortion, with no exceptions for incest or rape, since the June court ruling, according to a New York Times state laws tracker. Two other states offer rare exemptions. As many as 26 states are “certain or likely” to adopt an outright or near-total ban on the procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The bans do not distinguish between medical abortions — which can include one pill taken in a doctor’s office and a second pill taken at home — and clinical procedures. Most prohibitions focus on the duration of pregnancy.
“There are so many things that we didn’t think about because no one really believed the Supreme Court would limit rights,” Leyva said. “Let’s hope California leads the way and leads by example.”
Students will be able to book telehealth appointments and have abortion pills mailed to them, including during home visits during school holidays.
Since the Supreme Court ruling, questions have arisen about the courier process, said Annie Sumberg, of Essential Access Health, a reproductive health services group that offers training for the CSU and UC systems.
“There have been staff all over campus who are interested and curious about what support, if any, they can provide when their students are home for the summer,” she said. “Can they provide medical abortion across state lines? And those are really complicated legal questions that we can’t answer right now.
According UC enrollment figuresabout 7.4%, or 21,804 students, were from outside of California, as was about 5%, or 23,873, enrolled at CSU.
“These legal issues are still under review,” said Amy Moy, spokeswoman for Essential Access Health. “The environment is changing rapidly and the primary goal is to stimulate and strengthen abortion care capacity.”
So far, about 800 people have been trained on UC and CSU campuses to meet the January 2023 deadline, Sumberg said.
The trainings have not only highlighted how to provide care before and after a student requests abortion medication, but orients staff on how to care for patients and how to navigate the new law. UC and CSU systems officials said all campuses should meet the Jan. 1 deadline without any issues.
Only one school, UC Berkeley — where students first demanded access to abortion drugs, prompting the law — has already started providing the pills.
“University Health Services began offering medical abortion services in December 2020,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We support choosing where students want to get these services and have a long history of providing contraceptives, including the ‘morning after pill’ as well as referrals to nearby facilities for abortion services.”
And while abortion is legal in California, in some parts of the state, college campuses will be the only places in the county where abortion medications and counseling are available, other than via telehealth. About 40% of counties in the state do not have access to abortion care, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
“There are areas that are abortion and contraception deserts, and these areas often overlap where there are more healthcare shortages, including the rural north, the central valley and the Inland Empire. “, Moy said.
Before the law, some students had to drive more than 30 minutes and pay $600 to $800 for a medical abortion, Leyva said. For some students, the cost of medication could mean the difference between passing or dropping out of school.
On UC campuses, the pills will be covered by the student insurance plan required for students. At CSU, the doctor’s appointment is covered by tuition during the school year, but students will have to pay a fee of about $50 for medication, said Carolyn O’Keefe, director of wellness. of Students and Basic Needs at the CSU Chancellor’s Office. There may be a fee if an appointment is made outside of the regular school year, but the service will be open to students year-round.
“They won’t be turned away,” she said.
Students For Life of America, an anti-abortion group that organizes and recruits members on high school and college campuses, is working with attorneys to challenge the law and has enlisted 90 other groups to monitor cases that may end up before the courts. courts, such as injury to a student.
“We doubt student health centers have the emergency infrastructure to handle extreme bleeding and complications from chemical abortion pills,” said Kristi Hamrick, media manager and policy strategist for Students For Life America. “We have spoken with attorneys in California whether they are needed to treat such injuries or to advocate for the conscience rights of students or healthcare workers who do not want to participate in abortion death on campus.”
Wynette Sills, director of Californians For Life, who also opposed the bill, said she was also concerned about healthcare providers on college campuses being pressured into providing students with abortion drugs.
“Having a legislative mandate for your workplace to become an abortion provider seems very intrusive in the rights of conscience protection and the work environment for those employed by a student campus,” she said. declared.
Lou Hartmann, 25, a senior at Cal State Northridge said “for a lot of students, student health centers are their only way to get medical access.”
Campus centers also offer medical confidentiality when seeking abortion care.
“Some students don’t have health insurance or are on their parents’ health insurance,” Hartmann said. “Because they are on their parents’ health insurance, they may not want to use the insurance.”
A communications specialist with a queer studies minor, Hartmann, who uses the pronouns they/them, has joined protests for abortion access because they believe the struggle is centered on autonomy on their own body. The new law protects that autonomy, they said.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.