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Are California Universities Ready to Bring Abortion Pills to Their Campus?

In October, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law requiring public universities to offer abortion pills for students beginning in 2023. 

The legislation pertains to 34 University of California and nine California State University campuses. But are all campuses ready to bring this procedure to their students?

Many public university student health centers in California provide contraception options and birth control pills, but this is the first time in the country that abortion pills (not to be confused with the morning-after pill) will be accessible to students.

Newsom said in a written statement

“As other states and the federal government go backward, restricting reproductive freedom, in California we are moving forward, expanding access and reaffirming a woman’s right to choose, we’re removing barriers to reproductive health – increasing access on college campuses and using technology to modernize how patients interact with providers.”

The bill was started by a group of Berkeley students in 2015. In 2018, the bill was passed but vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown because “the bill was unnecessary” and “California has abortion clinics located, on average, five to seven miles from campuses,” the New York Times reported.

According to a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2018, an estimated 322 to 519 students attending California public universities seek medical abortions every month. 62 percent live more than 30 minutes away from an abortion facility and the average appointment wait time is one week. 

Some CSU and UC campuses may agree with Brown’s statement due to their campus size and student body needs. 

Dr. Irina Gaal, Chief of Medical Services at the Student Health and Psychological Services at California State University, Dominguez Hills, said the number of students asking about abortions is very low and that the staff is not trained to handle abortions. 

Even though the abortion pill is not the same as a medical abortion, it is still an invasive procedure. The pill is only effective in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, so women are required to get an invasive ultrasound with a vaginal probe, according to Gaal. Aftercare requires close monitoring and most health centers on campus are not 24/7. 

“The devil is in the details of how to do this and it just feels like they made a law that is one shoe fits all feet. But we at the CSU have different feet,” Gaal said.

“Some of us [have a] really tiny footprint like [CSUDH] [but some schools] like Cal State Northridge, they have practically a hospital over there. So one shoe does not fit all of our feet and the way the law is written, it sure treats us all like that and it doesn’t factor in the proximity to very accessible services.”

In contrast, other California universities are ready to implement this procedure. Medical Director of the University of California Santa Cruz, Dr. Elizabeth Miller, is excited to add this resource to their campus. 

“It will certainly be more convenient for our students who live on campus,” said Dr. Miller.

“Fortunately, we have the staff and space for this service and do not anticipate any obstacles. We have very few requests for abortion services and our priority is on pregnancy prevention and decreasing barriers to contraception.” 

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