The University of California has been hesitant to come out in support of accessible abortion for students.
California Sen. Connie Leyva proposed Senate Bill 320 in February, which would require California colleges to offer medication abortion services at student health centers if there is a pharmacy, or to provide transportation to a health care center that would offer abortion procedures at students’ requests.
At UCLA, this would mean that students could go to the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center for appointments and prescriptions for abortion medications without ever leaving campus.
The UC Office of the President is currently reviewing the bill and has not yet released a statement on it, according to UCLA spokesperson Rebecca Kendall. However, the bill has been out for nearly three months – surely enough time to take a stance.
UCLA officials and UCOP need to come out in support of this bill. The UC system has the logistical capacity to implement the bill and should not shy away from such an easy way to support students who need abortions on UC campuses.
The Pro-Choice Public Education Project defines reproductive justice as “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social and economic well-being of women.” The definition equally supports a woman’s right to parenting and abortion. In California, medication abortion is legal, and there is no reason that California colleges and UCLA shouldn’t support it.
California is often a front-runner in progressive reproductive health care measures; the UC must not shy away from its duty to support students just because anti-abortion organizations may threaten to protest.
The UC’s current abortion services aren’t enough. Students must go off campus for any pregnancy services aside from counseling and testing, Kendall said. This pushes a huge burden onto students, both financially and emotionally, and it increases the time required to obtain an abortion. This could limit students’ opportunities for abortion because of certain policies, such as the strict 10-week time frame in which medication abortions are still viable and legal options, said Paula Tavrow, director of UCLA’s Bixby Program in Population and Reproductive Health.
Despite UC Student Health Insurance Plan covering abortion services, students still can’t get a medication abortion on campus. Even with UC SHIP, off-campus campus abortions cost upward of $300.
This financial barrier is exacerbated by inaccessibility. UC Berkeley’s student group Students United for Reproductive Justice found that many students at UC Berkeley prefer to go to Planned Parenthood – where the time commitment can be up to four hours per appointment – instead of the campus pharmacy to save money.
Forfeiting UC SHIP and applying for Medi-Cal often reduces financial burdens. However, this places more obstacles in front of abortion-seeking students. The closest Planned Parenthood to UCLA is in West Hollywood. To get there from campus, it takes about 40 minutes by bus and the cheapest ride-sharing option costs approximately $9-12.
Furthermore, the time it takes to attend appointments interferes with students’ other commitments, said Adiba Khan a co-director of SURJ. Students should not be forced to disclose their pregnancy or plans of pregnancy termination to get an excuse from work or classes, as is often the case.
UC and UCLA need to support SB 320 and stay true to their students. UC support means a lot to both students and legislators, and it would make it clear that reproductive justice is a priority for them.
Because of the obstacles students face when getting an abortion off campus, they generally support on-campus services. At UC Berkeley, students overwhelmingly support SURJ’s efforts, said Khan and Phoebe Abramowitz, a co-director of SURJ. This trend would most likely apply to UCLA students as well.
Additionally, the financial burden on colleges would be minimal. UC SHIP already covers off-campus abortion services. Because UCLA and many other California campuses already have pharmacies and health care centers, the bill would be easy to implement with minimal training, said Tavrow.
Of course, the bill is not without its opponents, such as Live Action UCLA, an anti-abortion student group. President Monique Brunello and Internal Vice President Brigitta Szeibert said they feel the bill spreads a negative message that women cannot be successful and have a baby. But UCLA also offers counseling and recommendations for carrying a pregnancy to full term and raising a child.
Brunello and Szeibert also felt this bill could be dangerous because if students aren’t forced to disclose their plans to more people, women who secretly get an abortion could feel isolated. But students can disclose to anyone they choose – requiring them to disclose will not encourage them to seek help or care. In fact, it may do the opposite and make them stall past the 10-week point during which they can take medication abortion, the safest option.
Abortion’s legality was decided over 40 years ago. The fact that UCOP and UCLA are still debating the desirability of a bill that ensures the well-being, safety and health of students is absurd. Supporting this bill should be a no-brainer – the fact that it isn’t shows that our universities would rather play it safe than support their students.