Think of that unparalleled feeling of completing something that required a lot of hard work. That incredible feeling is doubled when you get to work with people you love and then tripled when you deeply believe in what you’re doing. That’s what SB 24, or the College Student Right to Access Act, is to me.
The bill requires all public universities in California to provide medication abortion at public university student health centers. As of Oct. 11, the bill became the law in California. Yes, medication abortion will be available at every public university health center in the state by 2023. Yes, I just said abortion. Get used to it.
Approved by the FDA nearly 20 years ago, medication abortion is a safe, effective method of ending a pregnancy up to 10 weeks after conception, and it’s clinically simple to provide. I myself learned about medication abortion in 2017 when I started working with Campus Action for Reproductive Equity, or justCARE, which is a campaign of seven organizations that sponsored SB 24 and led the movement to bring abortion care to campuses. I had met the trailblazing activists of Students United for Reproductive Justice, or SURJ, at UC Berkeley soon after transferring from Santa Barbara City College, where I got my start in community organizing. At the time, SURJ had been working to bring medication abortion to UC Berkeley for two years. I didn’t think twice. I rolled up my sleeves and jumped in with it.
Shortly after launching SURJ in 2015, its founders Adiba Khan and Meghan Warner met several peers who tried to seek abortion care at the Tang Center but faced bureaucratic obstacles. Why were students forced off campus for abortion care when that service could easily be available right here on campus, like all of the other reproductive health care already is?
Khan and Warner brought this question to campus administrators while simultaneously rallying support from the campus community. SURJ wrote op-eds, petitioned, secured $150,000 in funding through the Wellness Initiative Fee and passed an ASUC bill unanimously. Yet, after several meetings, campus administrators expressed that they were unwilling to bring abortion care to campus.
Around the same time, the movement to bring abortion care on campus went statewide. In 2017, State Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) filed the College Student Right to Access Act to require all 34 public universities in California to provide medication abortion at campus student health centers. And, with the support of the Women’s Foundation of California, justCARE launched and grew to include statewide reproductive health, rights and justice organizations, such as ACCESS: Women’s Health Justice, ACT for Women and Girls, the American Civil Liberties Union of California, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, NARAL Pro-Choice California and the Women’s Policy Institute at the Women’s Foundation of California. What started at UC Berkeley transformed into a groundbreaking campaign of organizations, advocates, legislators, researchers, students and funders.
This new law is truly historic. Now, the hundreds of California students who seek medication abortion every month will no longer be forced off campus to get their care. They will no longer have to miss class, work nor navigate public transportation, which can be expensive and unreliable, to get to an off-campus provider that they don’t know. They will not be turned away when seeking abortion care because of their gender identity or expression.
Being a student comes with unique barriers to abortion access, including travel, cost and a lack of free time. In California, about half of public university students are low income. Some struggle with a lack of housing, others with not knowing where their next meal is coming from. On top of that, most students at UC campuses and one-third of CSU system students don’t have cars. And these barriers especially harm students already marginalized by our health care system — disabled students, LGBT students, students struggling to make ends meet, independent students, first-generation students and students of color.
Reproductive justice, a framework created by Black womxn 25 years ago, is defined as the human right to have or not have children and raise those children in a safe and healthy environment. This, of course, applies to students and goes beyond just abortion. That’s why this is far from the end of the road for justCARE, as we plan to pursue additional initiatives to actualize reproductive equity for college students in California.
Abortions are normal and should be an option available to anyone who chooses. Access to abortions is a part of bodily autonomy and freedom. At a time when abortion access is under attack nationwide, California has stepped up with the College Student Right to Access Act. Everybody should be able to start a family on their own terms and have access to the resources necessary for their family’s well-being. And this new, young-people-powered law gets us one step closer.
Noël Jones is the former co-sponsor representative of SB 24, justCARE campaign consultant and Students United for Reproductive Justice executive alumni.