UC Berkeley students deserve access to safe, judgment-free healthcare — including abortion. Abortion is a safe and common procedure, and the majority of abortions in the United States fall within the undergraduate and graduate years. But Cal students must jump through bureaucratic and financial hoops to terminate a pregnancy. Anuva, an undergraduate, experienced emotional and academic distress from these obstacles. University Health Services should support students by providing medical abortions at Tang and prioritize student health and access to education above politics. To be clear — we are not asking for a new clinic, and medication abortion would come at no additional cost to Tang.
Although students do not talk about abortion often on campus, it is a common reproductive health care decision students face. College-aged women consistently have abortions at higher rates than any other age group. In 2008, women aged 18-24 accounted for 44 percent of all abortions. Many of these women seek an abortion in order to continue their education with little disruption, knowing that having a baby during college may not be the right choice for them. The common image of abortion includes a surgical procedure, in a clinic. But medical abortion has been legal in the United States since 2000, and more women choose this abortion option every year. Medication abortion, an option available to pregnant women before ten weeks, is a simple, safe process that can be done in the woman’s home. This form of abortion usually feels like a very heavy period. Some women report feeling empowered by having control over the process. But when a student seeks this common option, they are faced with confusing and unnecessary hurdles.
Because Tang does not offer abortion services, students with SHIP have to pay the $300 deductible and 10 percent of the overall cost for an out-of-house procedure. Some pregnant women, such as Anuva, are told they must visit Social Services to talk about their options before getting a referral, even if they are certain of their decision. This practice shows that Tang doubts a woman’s ability to make her own medical decisions, forcing her to talk with professionals at Tang and at the clinic about her decision. After visiting Tang twice — once for the pregnancy test and once for the Social Services counseling appointment — she can book an appointment at a nearby clinic. After one visit to that clinic, among a full schedule of classes, she can return again to terminate the pregnancy.
The process is also time-consuming and expensive at the nearest Planned Parenthood in El Cerrito, where a woman has to quickly raise the approximately $500 by herself or qualify for emergency MediCal. Anuva borrowed money from her friends, but some women cannot gather the funds within the ten-week window required for a medical abortion. Women then must wait days or weeks for the soonest available appointment at the already overburdened clinic. Anuva suffered mental and emotional distress while keeping up with coursework and finding an appointment that worked with her non-negotiable midterm schedule. The anxiety from waiting and borrowing money from friends ultimately hurt her academic performance.
The purpose of Planned Parenthood and other clinics is to serve the community at large, and in addition to the current health-care climate, wait-times are significant. UHS’s purpose is to serve students. If the overall goal of Tang is to maintain the health and wellness of the school community, a simple service such as medication abortion should be included. Tang already provides the full range of contraception options, including IUD insertion — a more invasive procedure than medical abortion. Tang already has the talented staff and the physical clinic capacity to provide abortion services in-house. UHS states that their services focus on student needs and “are designed to minimize the impact of illness, emotional distress and injury on studies and work.” To truly fulfill their mission, Tang must extend their comprehensive women’s healthcare to include medical abortion.
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Meghan Warner, Adiba Khan and Susannah Champlin are directors of Students United for Reproductive Justice at Berkeley.