California Campuses Could Soon See Expanded Abortion Access (Updated)

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California Campuses Could Soon See Expanded Abortion Access (Updated)

Nicole Knight

"Someone does not lose the constitutional right to end a pregnancy simply because they are a college student."

UPDATE, January 30, 2:25 p.m.: The California State Senate on Monday passed SB 320, the Associated Press reports. It now goes to the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

When Angelina discovered she was pregnant as a freshman at San Francisco State University, she wanted an abortion, but the student health center offered little more than flu shots, cold remedies, and condoms.

A grocery store cashier, Angelina lacked health insurance. After a hard conversation with her Greek immigrant parents, she drove across the bay to a Marin County Kaiser facility, where her abortion would be covered by her parents’ health plan. Then things got worse.

“I think I was asked upward of six times in a ten-minute appointment whether I was sure I wanted an abortion,” Angelina, now 25, recalled. Rewire is withholding her last name for privacy.

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The earliest date she could get the procedure was ten days away. The delay put her at 12 weeks’ gestation—too far along to get the medication abortion she’d wanted.

State lawmakers could soon provide a new choice for people in Angelina’s position. A first-of-its-kind bill in the California legislature would require student health centers at California public colleges and universities to dispense medication abortion, a safe non-surgical regime of two drugs taken before ten weeks’ gestation. The service would phase in starting in 2022, affecting more than 400,000 students.

No public colleges in the state offer medication abortion, nor do any around the country, but the author of SB 320 aims to change that.

“Someone does not lose the constitutional right to end a pregnancy simply because they are a college student,” said state Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino).

The bill cleared the state senate’s education committee on Wednesday in a party line vote, and heads next to the senate appropriations committee.

Angelina, now a pre-med student at Mills College in Oakland, supports SB 320 because she thinks it would remove the emotional and logistical barriers she encountered getting an abortion as a college student.

“It was almost like every week I had to jump through a hoop,” she recalled. “It was a whole domino effect.”

Each month, more than 500 students at California’s 34 public college and universities leave campus to seek medication abortions, according to a recent analysis by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California, San Francisco. The service requires two office visits. But more than two-thirds of University of California (UC) students and one-third of California State University (CSU) students don’t have a car, and half of the student body qualifies as low income. At 22 campuses, the nearest abortion provider is more than 30-minutes away on public transit. At CSU Stanislaus, the trip on public transit takes 92 minutes.

Given the safety and effectiveness of medication abortion, “there is no reason to exclude it from services provided at the student health center,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, director of ANSIRH.

Opponents argue the bill ignores a growing unmet need on campus for services like mental health care, dental care, affordable child care, shelter, and pregnancy support services. A Google maps analysis by anti-choice group Californians for Life showed abortion providers were an average of 5.97 miles from UC and CSU campuses.

“This bill falls short of even pro-choice expectations in that it does nothing to address the comprehensive needs of women on campus,” said Wynette Sills, director of Californians for Life. “It exclusively focuses on abortion, abortion, and more abortion—when not every woman wants to make that choice. This creates a legislative mandate on our already over-stretched university system.”

The legislation, which was held over from last year and heavily amended, still faces hurdles. It must clear the full state senate by the end of this month. Its implementation hinges on full funding.

State Sen. Connie Leyva said expanding abortion access at California’s public colleges and universities will come at no cost to taxpayers. Video by Nicole Knight.

Leyva said taxpayers will not foot the bill for implementation. Instead, two foundations and a private donor have agreed to pay set-up costs for staff training and equipment such as sonograms. Dr. Ruth Shaber, president of Tara Health Foundation, one of the funders, said they do not yet have an estimate of the total costs.

In the end, Angelina had a surgical abortion. It wasn’t the medication abortion she’d wanted the day she walked into the student health center at San Francisco State.

She missed three days of work, and a week of school. The toll, she said, felt like more.