California campuses to make abortion pills available

Despite administrator concern, law enacted as matter of gender and financial fairness

October 14, 2019
Pro-choice protest
Source: iStock

A first-in-the-US law requires all California public universities to start providing on-campus access to pills that allow a woman to terminate a pregnancy.

The law, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom after overwhelming passage by both houses of the state legislature, gives the 34 campuses of the University of California and California State University systems until January 2023 to comply.

Universities would not pay the cost of the medication – which ranges in price from several hundred dollars to about $1,000 (£800) – although the law does require it to be covered by health insurance plans.

The bill also requires the use of $10 million raised from private donors to help the campuses cover anticipated costs that include staff training and security.

State lawmakers acted after a study last year by UC researchers found that the lack of on-campus options was hindering several hundred UC students a year from obtaining a medical abortion.

Almost two-thirds of California’s public university campuses are more than 30 minutes away, by public transport, from the nearest abortion provider, according the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Forcing students to leave campus for abortion when other health services can be obtained on campus disproportionately burdens students who require abortion care,” the study authors said.

Leaders of California’s university systems have walked a careful line on the bill, taking no official position but warning about possible costs to their campuses and their students.

Mr Newsom’s predecessor and fellow Democrat, Jerry Brown, vetoed a similar bill last year, calling it unnecessary. Mr Newsom, then lieutenant governor and campaigning for the top job, said he would have signed the bill.

The bill this year passed 28-10 in the state senate, then 55-19 in the state assembly.

“Abortion is a protected right, and it is important that everyone – including college students – have access to that right, if they so choose,” the bill’s sponsor, Senator Connie Leyva, a Democrat, said in a statement after Mr Newsom signed the measure into law.

In his signing statement, Mr Newsom made a point of drawing a contrast with other US states where the right to abortion is being actively challenged, with the possibility that the US Supreme Court’s long-standing acceptance of abortion rights could be threatened by its two new Trump administration-appointed members.

Pharmaceutical treatments that induce a miscarriage now account for about a third of all US abortions. The necessary pills can be used only during the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy.

The move in California is expected to inspire both similar attempts in other states as well as protests and legal actions by groups that oppose abortion rights.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said the California law was “only good for propping up abortion vendors”.

The UC researchers in the Journal of Adolescent Health study, however, said the problem was a matter of financial and gender equity, given the cost and time associated with pursuing a medical abortion off campus.

Women who have a child while in college, the authors noted, are less likely to graduate than those who do not.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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