Students Demand Birth Control Action from UCI Health Center

By Ashley Duong

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed published this month, three UCI Law students chastised UC Campus Health Centers for failing to provide birth control to students without a prescription despite the passage of a bill in 2013 stipulating that birth control can be legally dispensed without a prescription in California. In response to student advocacy, the UCI Student Health Center implemented a new online protocol last Wednesday for requesting birth control in hopes of decreasing the time it takes for students to get access to contraceptives.

Third-year postgraduates Olivia Weber, Ali Chabot and Laura Lively noted in their piece, published on Oct. 5, that even three years after bill SB 493 was passed, none of the UC Health Centers had taken any action toward providing the service to students.

The bill, known as the “Pharmacist Protocol,” which focuses on extending the knowledge and functionality of pharmacists through additional training, makes the dispensing of birth control without a prescription a safe and legal practice.

While the UC system initially backed the bill, they failed to follow up with actual implementation of the new protocol. When pressed by Weber, Chabot and Lively, the UCI Student Health Center stated “administrative reasons” for their hesitation.

“They told us it would be too hard to accommodate, and they felt their current services were adequate. Dissatisfied with this answer, we drafted a petition and solicited hundreds of signatures in support of the implementation of this law to show that their services were inadequate,” said Weber, Chabot and Lively of their advocacy on the issue.

“We were motivated to keep pushing for concrete answers, because women have had to jump through hoops for equal access to reproductive health care for too long. This unequal treatment is strikingly apparent on UC campuses.”

The Health Center promised that the protocol would be implemented by the end of the summer, but the three were disappointed to realize that was not the case and decided to move forth with publishing their op-ed in hopes of further encouraging the center to adhere by the law.

In response, Administrative Director of the Health Center Chuck Adams noted that the Pharmacist Protocol “does not mandate that pharmacists dispense birth control medications without a physician’s prescription,” and that the staff “unanimously agreed that adoption of [SB 493] at [the Student Health Center] was not prudent for several reasons.”

Of those reasons, one was “[the pharmacy] does not have the appropriate physical layout and staffing levels at this time to accommodate the requirements of the protocol.”

However, Adams concluded that, “through its actions and ultimate decision regarding this matter, SHC strongly believes that it adhered to its mission while concurrently removing obstacles to and, in fact, greatly facilitating the timely access to birth control medications for the students of UC Irvine.”

Recently, the center has taken steps to improve access to birth control. In May of this year, the center reduced the time for appointments for new prescriptions to 15 minutes and decided to no longer require women’s health exams in order to renew prescriptions.

Furthermore, the UCI Health Center began implementing a new online system last Wednesday for students requesting birth control, which they hope will help expedite the time it usually takes for students to get access to hormonal contraceptives.

The system includes a “Contraceptive Questionnaire” that students must fill out, which would be used by providers to determine whether they can immediately approve the request or if the student must come in for an appointment with a provider before proceeding.

Still, this is not a complete implementation of the Pharmacist Protocol, which is what Weber, Chabot and Lively had hoped to achieve through their op-ed.

“We hope that our op-ed raises awareness,” said the students, “and that the University of California —  which supported this law before the California legislature but has done nothing to see it put into practice — will acknowledge this hypocrisy.”

“President Napolitano’s office appreciated the need for this law, so why isn’t the UC system making sure all UC women students are afforded its benefits?”