Students deserve equitable access to reproductive health care and contraceptives

Elina Blazhiyevska/Staff

As a physician, CEO and co-founder of a birth control delivery company with a passion for reproductive justice, I am disheartened by recent political events — from Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation to the most recent action by Gov. Jerry Brown.

At the end of September, the governor of one of the country’s most progressive states vetoed a bill that students at University of California and California State University campuses had worked valiantly to pass — SB 320. The bill, introduced by California state Sen. Connie Leyva, would have required health centers on college campuses to offer students access to medication abortions.

In Gov. Brown’s justification for the veto, he cited research by proponents of SB 320 that the average distance to abortion providers in campus communities is 5 to 7 miles, which Brown called “not an unreasonable distance.” He dismissed the notion that this averages to about a two to 2 1/2 hour walk. And it’s only an average — there are far greater distances for others.

Disappointingly, politicians continuously make policies that deny individuals their reproductive and sexual rights. Students face a multitude of barriers in regard to accessible reproductive health care and contraceptives. Without access or with increased barriers, individuals aren’t able to make informed and autonomous decisions about their bodies.

Access to medically accurate and science-based reproductive health care, including contraceptives, is essential to an egalitarian society. Research has shown that access to birth control has been responsible for a third of women’s wage increases relative to men’s since the 1960s.

Taking away and limiting access to birth control results in more unplanned pregnancies and, consequently, abortions. Unintended pregnancy rates are highest among women aged 18-24, compared to other age groups in the United States.

California is fortunate to have the Women’s Contraception Equity Act (passed in 1999) and SB 1053 (passed in 2014), which together preserve the Affordable Care Act’s promise of birth control with no copay and no deductible. UC Berkeley’s Tang Center is located centrally on campus and offers “birth control without an appointment.” That is not enough, however.

Bringing birth control to individuals via asynchronous telemedicine visits and medications delivered by mail would take away many barriers. Students trying to manage classes, labs, club meetings and a job don’t have time to run to the student health center or the local pharmacy. They deserve reliable and accessible birth control methods.

Implementing asynchronous telemedicine visits for birth control means that the customer can fill out a questionnaire 24/7, wherever they have internet access. That means that from your workplace, home, school, friend’s house or coffee shop, you can request birth control. This model allows the patient to have confidentiality and privacy. Pandia Health’s platform allows personal questions about sexual and reproductive health to be answered without shame or stigma.

Students need accessible and stigma-free birth control access. Access to birth control allows young people and students to plan their future, obtain an education and work to support themselves. As a result of greater birth control availability, the United States is at 30-year low rate of unintended pregnancy, including teenage pregnancy rates. In fact, having access to birth control pills before age 21 is one of the most influential factors allowing women already in college to stay in college.

With the current political climate, we need to make our voices heard and demand reproductive health care policies backed by science. We need to stand for policies that actually work to prevent unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. Therefore, we must vote for politicians who uphold values of reproductive justice for all. Beyond the election, we must donate our time and resources to support organizations working within communities to ensure everyone has access to the reproductive health care they deserve.

Dr. Sophia Yen is a physician, UC Berkeley alumna, and the CEO and co-founder of Pandia Health.