By: Danielle Dawson
Photography: CBS News
Students at California public universities will be able to access abortion by medication services at campus Student Health Centers by 2023, under the groundbreaking College Student Right to Access Act (SB 24).
The act, proposed by California State Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) through Senate Bill 24 and signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 11, is the first of its kind in the nation, requiring UC and CSU campus Student Health Centers (SHCs) to offer abortion by medication services.
This first-of-its-kind act marks a victory for pro-choice advocates, symbolizing a solidification of a pro-choice attitude within the state amid increasing national efforts to eliminate access to the procedure. Several states, including Georgia and Alabama, implemented “heart-beat” legislation earlier this year, which bans abortion after six weeks into a pregnancy.
“In a time when states across our country are rolling back women’s health care and access to abortion, California continues to lead the nation to protect every individual’s right to choose,” said Sen. Leyva in a press release.
For the past several months, the UCI SHC has begun to develop a plan for implementing the changes in accordance with the SB 24 act. This plan includes the contracting and training of staff, purchasing of equipment and adapting administrative practices to ensure “efficient documentation and consistent performance of the procedure.”
Students under the new act will have access to abortion by medication: a nonsurgical method to terminate pregnancies under 10 weeks. The method involves the administration of two different medications, which induces a miscarriage.
In 2017, abortion by medication accounted for approximately 39% of all abortions in the U.S. Presently, SHCs are unequipped to provide students the service and refer patients to offsite partner facilities.
“For many years we have been referring our students to the UCI Women’s Options Center and Planned Parenthood in Costa Mesa,” said Student Health Center Medical Director Dr. Albert Chang. “Our providers follow up with each student to ensure that their needs are met and that they have received the top level of care.”
However, according to Leyva, students seeking care at these offsite facilities are faced with potential travel and cost barriers.
A recent study conducted to assess medical abortions in California public universities found that between 322 to 519 students seek the service and as many as 62% were more than 30 minutes from the closest proximate abortion facility. The average out-of-pocket cost for care at these facilities totaled around $604.
According to the same study, as many as 23 UCI students are estimated to seek abortions by medication each month. The nearest abortion clinic is 8 miles from campus which is a 48 minute trip via public transit. The procedure itself costs students $500 out-of-pocket.
The new act hopes to alleviate the burden of seeking care at these off-site facilities and allow students to refocus on other important aspects of their lives, such as school and work.
“By ensuring that abortion care is available on campus, college students will not have to choose between delaying important medical care or needing to travel long distances or even missing classes or work,” Sen. Leyva said.
SB 24 was the second attempt to pass legislation of this kind in the state. The first of these attempts, SB 320 also introduced by Levya, was ultimately vetoed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018, who cited that the bill was unnecessary.
Opponents of the new legislation cite this same claim that expanded access for students is unnecessary, particularly given the already lenient abortion laws in the state.
Opponents also claim issues of the liability the new law places on SHCs and the burden of funding for the services. The legislation sets up a private fund to assist campuses, but it is set to be carried out in 2023. These groups expect funding to eventually fall on taxpayers or to become a service funded by student fees.
Schools are expected to fully comply with the new legislation after Jan. 1, 2023, using the next few years to equip SHCs with the necessary resources to implement these changes.
The UCI SHC is also currently assessing the scheduling system and has plans to partner with an additional provider experienced in medical abortions to ensure student access to care.
“The UCI Student Health Center currently provides comprehensive healthcare to our students of all ages,” said Chang. “This new legislation will add an additional service to the list of comprehensive care we currently provide … and help to ensure that each of our students have access to affordable and convenient reproductive health of their choosing.”