The California State Assembly passed a bill Wednesday requiring all public college campuses in the state to provide access to medication abortions starting in 2022.
The measure, SB 320, was introduced in February 2017 by state Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Inland Empire) and passed the state senate in January 2018. Now that that bill has been passed in both chambers, it will go to the desk of California Gov. Jerry Brown (D).
Medication abortion, often referred to as the abortion pill, is a nonsurgical procedure in which pregnancy is terminated through the use two drugs. While conservative critics say the bill “demands campuses hand out abortion pills,” the legislation would not mandate students receive the pills but instead provide it as an option.
Student leaders said some of the fiercest critics advocating against the bill behind closed doors have been administrators within the University of California (UC) system, which contains campuses such as UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego. Those campus officials, however, have not taken a public stance against the bill.
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“UC has been doing a lot behind the scenes to actively to work against the bill. They haven’t been very forthcoming about it, they haven’t taken [a] position against it, but they’ve been doing things that [made] it very hard for it to pass,” UC Student Association President Caroline Siegel-Singh said in an interview with Rewire.News. “Implementation of this would not be a huge endeavor.”
To illustrate her point, Siegel-Singh said her campus, UC San Diego, offers access to the procedure across the street at one of the university’s community medical centers, but not through student health services on the campus. “We’re just moving it a few feet closer to campus,” she said.
Siegel-Singh said that as recently as this week, UC administrators told legislators implementation would be too expensive, citing what she called wildly inflated numbers that have no basis in analysis done by advocacy groups.
A state Assembly Appropriations Committee analysis notes that the bill will not rely on taxpayer funding. In order to supplement this, the Women’s Foundation of California, Tara Health Foundation, and several private donors are set to create a grant of $200,000 for each campus to assist with training and purchase equipment and an additional $200,000 in grants for the creation of new billing systems and 24-hour medical advice lines. The analysis notes that the UC and California State University (the state’s other largest public university system) are concerned about the cost of implementation.
“UC agrees with Senator Leyva that students should have access to affordable and convenient reproductive health care,” said Claire Doan, UC Office of the President (UCOP) director of media relations in a statement to Rewire.News. “However, as we have made clear to lawmakers, we are concerned that SB 320 does not provide adequate funding to support UC’s student health centers for medication abortion services on site.”
Rewire.News obtained UCOP’s fiscal analysis of SB 320. The analysis specifies that UC will only support a cost-neutral bill, one that doesn’t increase student fees or increase the university’s state general fund budget, and argues that UC already provides enough access to reproductive care services.
“It just seems like their hesitation is to not deal with the political pushback, due to the politically controversial nature of abortion,” Adiba Khan, the former co-director of Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) at UC Berkeley, told Rewire.News. “It’s easier for them not to provide it.”
In California, the push for access to medication abortion on college campuses is often traced back to SURJ, a student organization at UC Berkeley, which started pushing for more access to health care on campus in 2016. Although their advocacy efforts on campus resulted in significant pushback and little administrative support, SURJ continued to advocate for more inclusive health-care services on campus, eventually focusing on advocacy for SB 320.
“It made no sense to us that something as simple as medication abortion wouldn’t be provided on campus when other reproductive and sexual health services are available,” Khan told Rewire.News in 2017. “Our medical insurance covers abortion, and there are trained providers already there at the Tang Center [Berkeley’s student health center], so there’s no reason not to make the medication available—other than to avoid controversy on campus.”
Khan, who graduated this year, is a co-founder of SURJ.
Along with several others, Khan helped legislators write SB 320. “If the bill does become a law, my work will be over,” she said. Khan believes that if Brown signs the bill, student leaders like Siegel-Singh and others around the state will continue to advocate for expanded access to health-care options on university campuses. Even so, Khan expects a slow and cumbersome implementation process.
“They do have until 2022 [to implement the measure] and I suspect that there will be some UC’s that will be more receptive .… And I suspect some of them will wait a while,” Khan said. “And so that’s why we have a solid base of students—to make sure that they can keep in contact with their administration and put pressure to get ready as soon as possible.”
During his 2010 re-election campaign, Brown called himself “an uncompromising champion of a woman’s right to choose.” The bill now goes to his desk, though advocates are unsure of what the outcome will be. Siegel-Singh echoed Khan’s words and said that should Brown sign the bill, she and others will be there to continue the push forward, both statewide and on her own campus.
“I totally expect roadblocks. They don’t want to provide the service,” Siegel-Singh said, referring to medication abortions. “What I hope will come out of this, is that people, especially legislators, become more aware that there are so many issues about access to health care services. Even if a student has health care, do they actually have access to what they need if they aren’t in the right county?”
UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect the findings of a fiscal analysis of SB 320 from the UC Office of the President.