I’m A California College Student, and I Know Abortion Pill Access Promotes Student Safety
By Kylie Cheung
In May, a bill that would increase access to abortion pills for California college students passed the state Senate. SB 24, which previously passed out of the state legislature in 2018 as SB 320, would be the first of its kind in the nation, requiring public state university health centers to stock and offer abortion pills. This provision would bridge a critical gap in abortion access among a key demographic of college students, who face unique barriers to safely access abortion.
With abortion pills on the brink of becoming available throughout California public universities, it’s never been more critical that we demystify and destigmatize it, and recognize that abortion is a safe option for unplanned pregnancies that should be readily available to all. When prescribed in a medical setting, abortion with pills typically involves taking a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, very rarely results in serious complications, which happen in fewer than 0.5 percent of cases. This means that it’s safer than a wide range of everyday health care procedures, which are less regulated and substantially less stigmatized.
Certainly, for California college students, increased access to abortion pills could vastly improve students’ living standards, and meet a long-existing need for many students. According to the University of California, San Francisco, more than 500 University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) students leave their campuses to access abortion pills each month, and 62 percent of UC and CSU students would have to spend more than two hours on public transportation to reach their closest abortion provider.
Almost half of all California counties lack an abortion provider, which means the trip to access abortion care off-campus can often be long and costly for the majority of students who don’t have a car. This could also require students to miss paid work, internships, and classes, causing students to lose income or fall behind in their academics.
Conveniently accessible abortion on campus is key to supporting students and providing safe, balanced academic lives across economic lines. While SB 24 would not guarantee abortion pills would be cost-free for students, as cost could vary based on billing practices at different universities’ health care centers, on-campus access would cut the cost and hours of travel as well as potential lodging expenses, which would make a critical difference. And of course, on-campus access would reduce a student’s time spent searching for and getting to the nearest abortion provider, impacting their ability to focus on their studies instead of health care barriers.
In addition to numerous, extensive barriers to abortion access pushed into legislation by an anti-abortion movement that seeks to push abortion out of reach, the reproductive health clinics college students travel to could potentially be flanked by deceitful anti-abortion protesters, or nearby anti-abortion fake clinics that prey on people seeking care and deliberately mislead them to prevent them from getting care. Despite California’s attempts to regulate fake clinics, the Supreme Court decided last year that fake clinics are allowed to essentially publish false advertising suggesting they offer abortion services when they actually don’t. Even students aware of fake clinics could easily be trapped into visiting a fake clinic off-campus, unaware that it’s not a real provider. On-campus abortion pill access could help protect students by potentially making it harder for abortion opponents to target students with harassment and misinformation.
While abortion with pills is safe, and access to abortion pills can vastly improve young people’s lives, in contrast, barriers to accessing health care are correlated with negative health and economic outcomes. Requirements that mandate university health centers hire specially trained staff, operate 24-hour hotlines, and carry costly, superfluous medical equipment just to administer highly safe abortion pills forces them to meet politicized “safety” standards that are unnecessary for such a safe regimen.
Abortion access helps women and people who can become pregnant make the best and safest decisions for their bodies, lives, and economic futures, and any attempts to obstruct this access often have the opposite effect.
Access to abortion pills is slated to become a prominent topic in California — but it’s also become an increasingly salient issue nationwide. For the many people who live far away from abortion clinics, with nearly 90 percent of all U.S. counties lacking an abortion provider, access to medication abortion is crucial and will play a pivotal role in the future of abortion access. Currently, seven states have just one abortion provider remaining, and in the early months of 2019, states have been introducing and passing total or near-total abortion bans at unprecedented rates.
It’s never been more urgent that we discuss the safety, necessity, and importance of abortion pills, amid a landscape of shrinking access to physical abortion clinics. As such, we must acknowledge self-managed abortion has always existed; in this climate where the federal right to abortion is increasingly at risk, making safe and effective abortion pills easier to access in the states is critical to ensuring dignity and equality for all people.
Kylie Cheung is a campaign fellow at Reproaction, and a student at University of Southern California.