On Jan. 29, the California State Senate approved Senate Bill 320, a bill that requires public colleges in the state to offer non-surgical abortion services in their student health centers. The bill would require all four-year universities in the UC and CSU systems to provide drugs for medication abortions and be ready to administer them to students by 2022.
Introduced in early 2017 by Chino Senator Connie Levyas, SB 320 was inspired by a campus resolution at UC Berkeley, and has since been supported by over 25 advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The California State Assembly still needs to vote on the bill, but given its Democratic majority, it’s relatively likely that the bill will be implemented.
The language of the bill only covers public schools, but as the idea of providing abortions in college health centers gains traction, private institutions like USC must consider the issue. In this instance, if USC truly cares about the health and well-being of its students, it should follow the example set by the UC system and move toward covering medication abortion in the Engemann Student Health Center.
A non-surgical or medication abortion has proven to be objectively safe and effective at terminating unwanted pregnancies. The procedure involves a two-pill dosage of mifepristone and misoprostol, which are spaced out over 24 hours and produce a response similar to an early miscarriage. It can only be implemented in the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy, and is around 95 percent effective. Though there is a risk of side effects and serious complications — as is true with many medications — the method has been used safely and legally in the United States for over 15 years, with serious adverse effects occurring in only 0.3 percent of cases.
USC’s health center itself directly addresses students in its mission statement by stating that it strives to “facilitate the completion of your academic career at USC by promoting healthy lifestyles and caring for your physical and psychological illnesses and concerns.” There are not many health concerns that are more common and would be more disruptive to an academic career than an unwanted pregnancy.
Engemann already does a commendable job with providing multiple birth control options, gynecological treatments and testing for sexually transmitted infections. They even make getting an emergency contraceptive, or morning after pill, fairly simple. With all of the sexual health resources already available, it may not seem necessary to add early-term medication abortions to the mix.
But abortions are far more common among the college-age population than many believe. On average, one in four American women have an abortion before they turn 45, and one in five have one before they turn 30. And more than half of those who received an abortion in 2016 were using at least one form of contraception, and nearly a quarter were using hormonal or long-standing contraception like birth control pills or an IUD, at the time of conception.
The reality is that even when the IUD and the birth control pill are being used perfectly, they can fail 1 to 2 percent of the time. These forms of contraception can also mask early signs of pregnancy, which means that a pregnant person might not notice it until several weeks in. Emergency contraception pills only work up to five days after sex, so if initial contraception fails and the patient fails to notice, she would be facing the choice between an abortion or carrying an unplanned baby to term — even though she was doing everything right to prevent pregnancy.
If the student chose to keep the baby, then more power to her. But consider if she wanted an abortion. Depending on their insurance, a first trimester abortion could cost between $350 and $950. Students at USC are lucky to be in a dense city where there is a Planned Parenthood less than a mile away and several women’s health clinics within a five-mile radius, but getting the procedure would still require scheduling around classes and work and organizing transportation to and from the clinic. An easy and confidential option for early abortion in Engemann, like the one outlined in SB 320, would be far superior and safer for students in a position like this.
For the roughly 50 percent of the student population who are at risk for unplanned pregnancy, many levels of care should be in place to get them safe, shame-free medical care, so that they can stay in school, complete their academic goals and comprehensively plan their futures. Women and trans or nonbinary people who can get pregnant deserve to exercise their bodily autonomy safely and continue their education without an unwanted pregnancy stopping them.
These levels of care start with education and access to contraception; the University has already committed itself to these options, which is a step in the right direction. Medication abortions have proven to be easy and safe to administer, and there is no reason that they should not be offered in the suite of birth control options already available on campus. Senate Bill 320 sets a noteworthy example of accessible, comprehensive health care on college campuses, and USC should follow suit — regardless of legislative mandates.