JustCARE campaign intersects students, legislators, doctors to increase access to non-surgical abortion
California students, doctors, legislators and private funders worked together to bring the abortion pill to every public California university with the justCARE: Campus Action for Reproductive Equity campaign and Senate Bill 320. The “abortion pill” is a commonly-used term for the two medications involved in non-surgical medicated abortion. Mifepristone blocks pregnancy-maintaining hormones, while misoprostol flushes the uterus.
Senate Bill 320, written by Senator Connie M. Leyva, sought to “offer abortion by medication techniques” at “each public university student health center” before or by Jan. 1 of 2022. The Senate Education Committee passed SB 320 on Jan. 10. The bill will only apply to public universities with on-campus student health centers.
UC Davis is already one of the few campuses in the United States to offer a Plan B vending machine, where students can access morning-after pills. Plan B differs from medicated abortion in that it inhibits sperm implantation to the egg. Other morning-after medication prevents ovulation through progestin, but does not interfere with sperm and egg implantation.
The California Aggie participated in a conference call conducted by justCARE with doctors, educators, researchers and a student on Jan. 9 to provide outreach on behalf of SB 320.
Adiba Khan, a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley majoring in public health and sociology, is the director of Students for Reproductive Justice on her campus and has partnered with justCARE. According to Khan, abortion stigma is not just a problem in conservative states, but nationwide as well.
“I’m thrilled to be part of the justCARE campaign,” Khan said. “We envision a future where reproductive health services are available to all students who need them. Coming from Oklahoma to Berkeley, I didn’t think abortion access would be a problem in this progressive state. In my home state, I know many people struggle to get abortion care, but I thought that only happened in rural or conservative places. My sophomore year in college, I learned that in fact there are actually many barriers and bureaucratic hurdles, particularly for students living on campus students [to get] abortion care. I also came to realize that abortion stigma existed everywhere, and that all of us have a role to play in dismantling the stigma and silence surrounding abortion.”
Khan found herself wondering why safe access to abortion and reproductive health care was not already an inalienable human right, especially for on campus students without cars. According to Khan, underrepresented and impoverished students bear the largest burden of accessing reproductive health care.
“Once we realized how difficult it was to get an abortion — that students have to travel off campus, sometimes spending hours on public transit and money they don’t have — we found ourselves asking why this safe, effective care wasn’t available on our campuses,” Khan said. “Today we’re part of a statewide effort looking to change this. These barriers disproportionately harm students of color, low income students, and first-generation college students. Once a student decides to end a pregnancy, there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to get the abortion pill on campus.“
Khan sees the potential in direct reproductive health care access on campus, as well as furthering abortion acceptance.
“As a woman of color and child of immigrants who grew up low-income, reproductive health is personal for me,” Khan said. “Offering the abortion pill on campus would mean that students would be able to get abortion care without needless costs, delays, emotional stress or added travel time. And It would do something else too. It would send a powerful message countering the prevailing and incredibly harmful abortion stigma in our society. Abortion is a safe and essential part of reproductive care and making it available on campus reinforces that truth.”
Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and the director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted a study gauging if California campuses had the current capacity to provide medicated abortion. He concluded that there was no reason to exclude administering the abortion pill from services provided at every California student health center, if ultrasound machines and training were acquired.
“We obtained responses from all 11 UC campuses and 20 of the 23 CSU campuses,” Grossman said. ”We found that all the student health centers had the current setup to provide medication abortion. Most of the health centers would need an ultrasound [and] all of the sites would require training for staff on medication abortion care. With a reasonable amount of investment, these issues can be addressed. All the UCs have a 24-hour nurse or physician consultation hotline, but only nine of the CSU’s have this, so this will be necessary. Based on our assessments, I believe it would be very feasible for the UC and CSU campuses to be able to provide medication abortion onsite.”
According to Dr. Ruth Shaber, the founder and president of the Tara Health Foundation, the funding consortium is made up of private donors: The Women’s Foundation of California, Tara Health Foundation and an anonymous donor. Shaber said the new equipment and training that Grossman mentioned is feasibly fundable.
“We are committed to providing the necessary funding to begin to provide if this California right to access act becomes law,” Shaber said. “If SB 320 becomes law, we will provide funds to support training for health care providers, equipment, a security audit and any other upgrades. There will be no cost to clinics to become ready to provide this medical service. Not only is it the right thing to do to lift barriers to abortion care, but it’s also possible, starting right here in California. Let’s [make] reproductive health care, including abortion, available to all who need it.”
Ushma Upadhyay, an associate professor in residence, obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at UC San Francisco, conducted a study to observe the temporal and geographic barriers on campus college students face when trying to access reproductive health care. Upadhyay is the deputy director of the University of California Global Health Institute Center of Expertise on Women’s Health, Gender, and Empowerment. Her study aimed to quantify the demand of students who want abortion access, as well as how far they would have to travel.
“There would be between 322 to 522 medication abortions occurring across all UC’s and CSU’s each month,” Upadhyay said. “15 campuses, which represent about 44 percent, are further than 5 miles from the nearest provider. Median public transit time is 34 minutes one way. Only five of the 34 abortion facilities closest to UC and CSU campus are open on weekends. The average wait time was seven days. This is important because medication abortion can only be done in the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Evidence shows that women with unplanned pregnancies and younger women are significantly less likely to recognize a pregnancy in the first six weeks.”
Shaber emphasized the need to advocate for student’s reproductive health on college campuses.
“No student should have to navigate off-site care when the campus health care center is able to provide that service,” Shaber said. “As an OB/GYN physician, I know students will have improved medical outcomes if they are able to access care from accessible providers they trust. Today, I’m very pleased to announce that a group of private funders have come to cover the cost of implementation for providing the abortion pill on California campuses. Like many across the state, we recognize the importance of keeping abortion legal, affordable and available.”
Written by: Aaron Liss — firstname.lastname@example.org