California Poised to Be First State to Provide Free Medication Abortions to College Students

By Ayana Byrd Sep 16, 2019

California is the first state to pass legislation that provides medication abortions free of charge to all students at its public universities.

On Friday (September 13), the state senate voted for a bill that covers all 34 state schools in California, which enroll nearly 75,000 students via the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems. “Under the bill, as of 2023, campus health centers would be required to offer medication abortion—a process that involves taking two types of pills, legally approved to terminate pregnancies that are within 10 weeks of gestation,” reports The New York Times.”​​​​​

The bill was created in response to a 2015 student-led movement called Students United for Reproductive Justice at University of California, Berkeley. According to an August 2018 study, an estimated “322 to 519 California public university students seek medication abortions each month. As many as 62 percent of students at these universities were more than 30 minutes from the closest abortion facility via public transportation.”

The schools within the UC and CSU systems have an overall population that is predominantly made up of students of color, and 62 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by the state’s Latinx population come from a CSU school.

In 2000, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of the abortion pill for people looking to end their pregnancies. Today, reports the Times, it is the method used in about one-third of all American abortions. It is a two-step process—after a consultation, a medical provider dispenses two drugs that can be taken at home, with studies showing it to be safe for the majority of people.

Governor Gavin Newsom has one month to sign the bill into law. While there is vocal opposition to it—including from Students for Life of America who called medication abortions “toilet bowl abortions”—Newsom has indicated that he is in favor of the legislation.

“We can show the rest of the country, especially while there’s these crazy abortion bans sweeping the country,” University of California Santa Barbara graduate Zoe Murray—who was unable to get a medication abortion from the student health center when she was a sophomore and says she failed a class because of the time it took to get the procedure off campus—reportedly said. Reports The Times:

Most campus health centers now provide gynecological exams and contraception, but refer students seeking abortions to outside clinics. Advocates for the bill argued that sending students off-campus for a process that typically involves medical visits before and after the medication was taken posed hurdles.

Marj Plumb, campaign director at medical advocacy organization JustCARE, told The Times, “The barriers are about economics and schedules and frankly also about stigma.”