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California must provide access to abortion care on public university campuses

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JANUARY 29, 2019

This January, thousands of college students across California are returning to campus. For many students, their campus is the epicenter of their daily lives. UC Berkeley students have demanding schedules, take part in research programs, spend hours in labs or manage student organizations. They eat here, sleep here and have access to lots of important health services on campus.

However, one of the most crucial services students do not have access to on campus is abortion care. UC Berkeley’s Tang Center, along with all other California public campus health centers, does not offer any form of abortion care. The lack of campus abortion care means that students have to seek care off campus from a provider they don’t know. Abortion care could easily be provided on campus and should be accessible at student health centers.

Since 2015, the UC Berkeley group Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) has been organizing for campus abortion care. SURJ’s efforts have culminated in the justCARE campaign, which mobilizes students and allies across California so that all reproductive health services are available to all students who need them, wherever they live or go to school. In 2018, students and their allies in the state legislature passed a bill that would have required student health centers on all 34 California public university campuses to offer abortion pills. But former Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the measure, deeming it “not necessary.”

This year, students across California and their legislative allies are returning to the halls of the state Capitol to finally make abortion care available at the UC Berkeley Tang Center and all public state university campuses. This time around, even more state leaders are joining the movement to get abortion care on campus, including Senator Hannah Beth Jackson and ACLU Northern California.

According to researchers at Advancing New Standards In Reproductive Health based at UC San Francisco, about 1,000 students across California’s 34 public universities seek abortion care every month at off-campus health care facilities, including many who opt for medication abortion, also referred to as abortion pills. Medication abortion has been a safe, clinically simple method of abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy for almost two decades, and yet, it is not available at any public university campus health center.

Making the trip to an off-campus health care provider can be time-consuming and even expensive, as clinics are often more than five miles away from campus. UC Berkeley is located in a city where parking can be expensive, and the cost of a campus permit alone can cost up to $327 per semester. Most students across the state scramble to make public transit schedules work around their busy lives, as ⅔ of UC students do not own cars along with ⅓ of CSU students.

The reality is, wealthy students can easily get the abortion care they need, but true reproductive justice means equalizing access for all. 51 percent of students across UC and CSU campuses are low-income. Requiring students to travel off campus to acquire abortion care can be a significant financial burden, disproportionately harming low-income students, students of color and disabled students—for whom reliable transportation and a flexible work schedule may be less accessible. Furthermore, institutions like UC Berkeley have an obligation to continue to support their most vulnerable students, such as victims of sexual assault.

Students should not have to miss class or work in order navigate the barriers of getting to an off-campus clinic for something as safe and clinically simple as abortion pills. In fact, all student health centers at public universities already have the minimum requirements to provide medication abortion—a private exam room, the ability to perform pregnancy testing and counseling, and clinicians who are licensed in the state of California. Reproductive health services such as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and IUD placement are already available on campus as well. Singling out abortion as the only reproductive health service not offered on campus further stigmatizes care and the students who need it.

Making campus abortion care a reality will be simple. California state health programs, including Medi-Cal and student health insurance, already cover abortion. A groundbreaking group of funders have stepped up to cover the training and startup costs for student health centers to offer medication abortion at their facilities. On top of that, 60 percent of Californians, and 64 percent of college students, support access to abortion on campus.

The College Student Right to Access Act (SB 24), which state Senator Connie Leyva refiled in December, can make campus abortion care a reality.

The Trump administration and anti-choice politicians—emboldened by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court—continue to take a swipe at abortion care. But with SB 24, California has an opportunity to be a national leader in improving the landscape on abortion for thousands across our state and make safe, affordable and judgement-free abortion care a reality for students at UC Berkeley and across the state.

Noël Jones is a senior majoring in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, and executive member of Students United for Reproductive Justice.

JANUARY 29, 2019