USC students seeking key health care items for discounted prices can now access these resources at any time at a vending machine on the first floor of King Hall. The vending machine carries contraception, condoms and even cough drops, cold and headache medication, all at reduced prices. Necessary and intuitive as a resource like this may be on a college campus, it was a long time in the making at USC, following strides made first by schools like UC Davis, Columbia University and others.
Though the University has installed a Plan B vending machine after years of student activism and demands, the fight for student access to crucial reproductive health care can’t end here. As universities like USC across the country make important, laudable progress on protecting and expanding students’ reproductive rights, there is still much work to be done in one particular area: abortion access.
Public universities in California — which, of course, don’t include USC — came close to carrying medication abortions paid for by private funding in their health centers, when a bill called S.B. 320 passed out of the State Assembly and Senate by a 2-1 margin. But the bill, which 60 percent of surveyed California voters supported, was vetoed by former Gov. Jerry Brown last September.
According to Brown, S.B. 320 was “unnecessary” because — in Brown’s mind — abortion is already highly accessible. Brown is a white man who hasn’t experienced unwanted pregnancy in college. In addition, 43 percent of California counties lack abortion providers. At the time the bill was introduced, the average distance to an abortion provider was five miles from California State University campuses and seven miles from University of California campuses. Access to these clinics could come with substantial cost because most students in the CSU and UC systems would have to pay for transportation, and face varying financial barriers as college students. The bill itself first arose from student need and been proposed by University of California students who had either struggled to access abortion care firsthand or knew peers who had.
S.B. 320 was proposed to address a crucial gap in female college students’ health care needs, and account for the fact that seeking abortion care off campus often required students to miss class and responsibilities or shoulder steep financial burden. In more rural parts of California, travel to access abortion can easily be an all-day affair and involve inaccessible travel and lodging costs.
Let’s be clear: With or without a bill like S.B. 320, California’s public university students are already seeking abortions via medication, which is highly safe and critical to empowering students to stay in school, graduate and have control over their lives. Every month, an estimated 519 UC and CSU students seek abortions via medication off campus, according to a UC San Francisco study.
That’s why S.B. 24, a new bill in the State Senate that carries on the mission of S.B. 320, is so important. Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed his support for S.B. 24, and with an even more solid pro-choice majority in the state legislature as of the 2018 election, there is reason to be optimistic.
Because USC is a private institution, S.B. 24 wouldn’t directly impact USC students. But that doesn’t mean we as young people don’t have a stake in it nor that we shouldn’t be involved in the fight to pass it. Not only should we lobby our state representatives to support the bill and encourage our peers to do the same, but we should also call upon our own University to follow the lead of its fellow California universities and offer the student body the critical health resource that many college students in this state may soon have access to.
The recent addition of an affordable contraception vending machine to USC’s campus marks a critical step in the right direction for promoting gender equity, safety and access to key health care for the student body. But however uncomfortable this reality may be for some, the fact remains that abortion is health care, and like emergency contraception and all other safe, legal health care, it must always be an accessible option for college students across all socioeconomic classes.
Kylie Cheung is a junior writing about feminism and women’s rights. Her column, “You Do Uterus,” runs every other Thursday.