CA legislation SB 24 spearheads medical abortion access for students

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California SB 24 is a bill that ensures students on all UC and CSU campuses have access to medication abortions. This ensures quality reproductive health care accessibility to all students, irrespective of financial and logistical barriers. Students seeking access to these medical procedures deserve to exercise their constitutional rights to abortion care. Yet, not a single UC or CSU campus currently provides medication abortions — which, in turn, disproportionately impacts the student population. Currently, some students are forced to compromise on critical responsibilities such as attending class or going to work because they must travel long distances to access medication abortion prescriptions. Additionally, the financial strain placed upon some students seeking these reproductive health services is both restricting and daunting.

Former governor Jerry Brown previously vetoed a similar bill to SB 24, deeming it “not necessary” due to the fact that the average student must travel five to seven miles to access abortion providers. It is important to note, however, that many students — particularly low-income students — lack access to adequate transportation. For students living on campuses in urbanized cities, a five to seven mile commute via public transportation or car can take an overly long or inefficient amount of time. Alternatively, students living on campuses in rural areas may have difficulty traveling such distances when either public transportation access, clinics — or both — are lacking in that location. Moreover, abortion provider hours are often limited, making it difficult for students to access such providers without sacrificing the time needed to undertake academics, attend work or pursue extracurriculars.

It is most critical to address, however, the possible financial constraints for students seeking access to quality abortion care. Obtaining medication abortions from off-site providers can be expensive. The American Medical Women’s Association, or AMWA, branch at UC Berkeley fully supports the statement released by Dr. Norma Jo Waxman, current national AMWA co-chair of the advocacy committee.  In this statement to Senator Connie Levya, D-Chino, and the Senate Health Committee, Dr. Waxman said: “Over half of all UC and CSU students qualify for Pell Grants. For low income students especially, paying out-of-pocket at a clinic, securing reliable transportation, and missing school and work to determine their options and access timely care are huge obstacles.” Hence, we strongly support SB 24, as it will ensure quality and safe access to medication abortions — regardless of socioeconomic status. 

In light of recent abortion bans in various states across the country, it is critical — now more than ever — to voice why bills such as SB 24 are important in advocating for the patient’s best interest. By examining the history of abortion in the United States, it is evident that abortions occur regardless of whether or not they are legally accessible. Historically, without adequate access to abortion care, many individuals succumb to life-threatening alternative methods with sometimes enormous and lifelong consequences. This will continue to happen until further change is enacted.

According to the “Principals of Abortion,” a national AMWA position paper, “When abortion was illegal in this country, it was brought about by dangerous, self-induced methods. Often times, clandestine, untrained, practitioners performed abortions under unsterile conditions with nofollow-up care. Many women suffered reproductive tract damage, infection, bleeding, permanent sterility, or death.” The position paper explains that, in contrast,  “since the advent of legal abortion in the United States, there has been a marked decrease in all pregnancy-related deaths and an even greater drop in pregnancy and abortion related complications.The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade struck a fair balance between the state’s responsibility to protect a woman’s right to make personal medical decisions and the state’s responsibility to protect the potentially viable third-trimester fetus. While this decision proved to be a monumental step in the right direction, it is now time to pass further legislation specifically designed to benefit college students.

It is important to note that AMWA at UC Berkeley fully respects every individual’s right to hold and practice one’s own religious, ethical and moral beliefs in their personal lives. Thus, we strongly support SB 24. By increasing accessibility to medication abortions, pregnant students are provided the choice to exercise whatever medical decision is in alignment with their own personal belief system. 

AMWA at UC Berkeley understands that, unrestricted by socioeconomic status, full access to abortion and family planning services improves the quality of life for individuals seeking such care. Therefore, we advocate for bills such as SB 24 that help ensure contraceptive equity. We thank both the California State Assembly and Senate for recently voting in favor of SB 24. We now ask that Gov. Gavin Newsom signs the bill so it can go into full effect. Once approved, the SB 24 will require all UC and CSU campus student health centers to provide medication abortions by Jan. 1, 2023.

Nora Galoustian is president of the American Medical Women’s Association at UC Berkeley and has a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology.