Students in California's four-year public universities could have access to abortion medication on-campus, thanks to a bill currently being considered at the State Legislature.
The College Student Right to Access Act, also known as SB 320, was introduced by state Sen. Connie Leyva in February 2017 and will be up for a vote in the Senate at the end of this month. Then, it would be up for consideration at the State Assembly. The bill directs the schools within the University of California and California State University systems to stock up their health centers with medical abortion pills and start providing the service by 2022.
"The reason medicative abortion is important on campuses it's because you can only take [the medication] up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. You usually don't find out you're pregnant until you're four or five weeks along," she said. "They have to travel off-campus, it's going to be very costly and it's going to be inconvenient. If they can go to their health center, where they feel safe and comfortable, it's the perfect environment for a woman who finds herself in that situation."
Medical abortion — commonly known as the "abortion pill" — is not to be confused with emergency contraception. The process is a safe option to terminate an early pregnancy and involves two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol, one which is taken at the doctor's office and the other which is taken at home 24-48 hours later. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the final cost can range from $300 to $800 — depending on factors such as health insurance, region of the country, and the type of testing needed.
The bill came to be thanks to a group of students at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2016, Adiba Khan drafted a resolution asking UC Berkeley's health center to include medication abortion among the services offered to students. Khan, the co-founder of Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ), told Refinery 29 she had noticed that while the school's Tang Center offered all 18 forms of contraception, and the students' health insurance offered abortion coverage, medical abortion wasn't available.
"I was able to meet peers who attempted to get an abortion through our health center and faced many bureaucratic hurdles," she said. "After our initial meetings with Tang health administration, we realized that abortion wasn't offered due to the controversial nature of the service instead of the lack of capacity to offer it as a service."
Though Khan and other students met up with the Berkeley administration, and were able to raise $240,000 to implement the program, the effort didn't work out. So they linked up with the Women's Foundation of California to create a statewide campaign, and the Sen. Leyva came forward in support of the effort. The Women's Foundation of California Women's Policy Institute helped draft the bill, with input from Khan and SURJ co-directors Marandah Field-Elliot and Phoebe Abramowitz.
"College students should not have to face financial, logistical, and bureaucratic burdens for a health service that is so simple and can be easily provided at a student health center," Khan told Refinery29. "Reproductive health includes abortion and since one of the most important services a student health center is concerned about is reproductive and sexual health, abortion is part of that. In addition, this movement intends to destigmatize and normalize abortion as not a 'necessary evil,' but as a positive and typical service that helps people make decisions about their lives. "
No taxpayer money will be used to fund the effort, Leyva said. (The Hyde Amendment bans the use of federal funds to pay for abortion procedures.) Two foundations, the Women's Foundation of California and the Tara Health Foundation, will pay for training and equipment at the health centers and billing of the procedures.
For Leyva, the legislation it's even more meaningful given the Trump administration's constant attacks on reproductive rights. Just in the first year since President Trump took office, we've seen efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, the partial rollback of the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate, and religious liberty guidelines that would allow health workers to refuse to provide contraception or abortion-care.
"This bill has always been important, but now with what we're seeing it's happening at the federal level trying to limit a woman's right to choose, I think it's critical this legislation passes in California," Leyva said. "Then I hope we can be a model across the country, for every state."
Meanwhile, Khan believes the campaign and subsequent legislation exists because students at Berkeley organized and demanded that their conditions changed. She said, "Student activism can be powerful and impactful and this entire campaign is evidence of just that."