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Editorial: The new governor may allow SB 24, but who’s going to pay for it in the long run?

By Editorial Board

September 8, 2019 8:36 pm

Correction: The original version of this article misidentified the Women's Foundation of California.

This post was updated Sept. 12 at 10:26 a.m.

Last year, California’s governor single-handedly shut down access to abortions on its public university campuses.

But with a new governor in town, California is ready to try again.

Senate Bill 24, also known as the College Student Right to Access Act, is making its rounds through the state legislature, and would provide access to medication abortion, otherwise known as the abortion pill, at all 32 of the state’s undergraduate-serving public universities. The state legislature also promises to fund each public university’s health center with a $200,000 grant to fund the medication, as well as any service costs. The state will also provide another $200,000 grant to both the University of California and the California State University 24-hour telephone line medical support.

The bill is expected to pass in the next few weeks, at which point it will wait for final approval by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The then-candidate assured us last year – when his predecessor rejected a similar bill – that he would support such legislation.

And in a state where student access to healthcare has consistently taken a backseat, he would do well to fulfill his promise.

But there’s no guarantee this vow will last. Alongside dismal university support, SB 24 may as well fade into oblivion as external funding inevitably becomes depleted in the years to come. And with healthcare programs that are already lacking, the UC may have difficulty sustaining the services associated with this process.

Estimated costs to implement the medication abortion program range from $14 million to $20 million. External funders have stepped up to cover the expenditures, and according to the Women’s Foundation of California, they’re prepared to increase donations should this price tag increase.

But even with increased funding, donations don’t last forever – and if UC relies on them, they will leave the future of student health uncertain. After 2023, funding for medical abortions both from donors and the state legislature expires, leaving the cost of the pill on student shoulders.

This isn’t the first time student access to healthcare has been an afterthought. Once universities are left to fend for themselves, service shortages are inevitable as universities continue operating beyond their fullest capacities. Just look at the UC’s inadequate mental healthcare system.

Fortunately, the state wants to avoid having universities dip into their general funds and promises to help student health centers find funding for the ongoing costs of the program. But the university needs to meet them halfway – and they might not be able to do so. Demand for other services, such as counseling and medical support, will surely rise. And if UCLA has proven anything, it’s that they don’t have the infrastructure to support such an increase – regardless of funding.

Access to abortion services is an essential health right and should come bundled into every UC health center by default. But without a concrete plan for the program’s long-term sustainability, students are left to wonder when their access might end without warning.

After all, with heartbeat bills and reluctant courts, it’s only a matter of time before Roe v. Wade sees death by a thousand cuts.

And if the UC and the state can prevent that, they have a responsibility to do so in perpetuity.

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