California State Sen. Connie Leyva put forth a bill last month that would make the abortion pill accessible at all California public colleges with health centers that receive funding from the state. The abortion pill is a two-pill dosage of misoprostol and mifepristone, which inhibits the hormones necessary for pregnancy and, while approved by the Food and Drug Administration 16 years ago, requirements to access the pill vary widely across The United States.
While the bill does not include surgical abortions, it would be a step toward making a crucial women’s health service accessible to young women with limited economic means. After all, for female college students, control over their bodies is what makes higher education possible. But ultimately, by bringing abortion via the abortion pill to California campus health centers, the bill would also be a powerful step toward destigmatizing an objectively safe, medically necessary procedure, and toward unraveling the paternalistic, pernicious and, unfortunately, highly successful rhetoric conservatives have used to sideline abortion for decades.
Leyva’s bill still awaits debate and voting on the Senate floor, but it’s already fairly easy to anticipate the pushback in the form of paternalism and condescension disguised as concern for young women’s safety.
It’s worth noting that for all the expensive, medically unnecessary and — as of June 2016 — unconstitutional hospital requirements forced onto abortion clinics, surgical abortion is vastly safe. According to research by Columbia University, women are 14 times more likely to die giving birth than having a surgical abortion. And abortion medication, the object of Leyva’s bill, is arguably even safer. Since the FDA approval of the abortion pill in 2001, 3 million women have taken the abortion pill, and of those, only 19 women died of pill-related complications.
It’s funny that abortion opponents who are supposedly concerned with women’s safety couldn’t even take the time to acknowledge this research. Their opposition to abortion accessibility on campuses — to the extent that they are willing to put the health and academic interests of female college students on the backburner — is, in reality, the advancement of political agenda and personal ideology. They might as well just be transparent about it.
The debate about abortion accessibility on college campuses is sure to be a heated one since abortion, despite objectively being a medical procedure like any other, remains mired in controversy. The reason is far from random — it is the disturbingly effective conservative rhetoric that attacks abortion and makes it the great untouchable subject that it is, with two strategies.
One of these is, of course, to fear-monger and present abortion as dangerous; This results in harmful regulations on abortion that shut down clinics and render the procedure inaccessible to women without the economic means to travel out of state. That being said, a surge in popularity in abortion medication over the years (43 percent of abortions in 2014 were abortion medications, up from 35 percent in 2010) runs parallel to an increased trend of clinic shutdowns in rural states since 2012. This speaks to prevalent research that laws meant to restrict abortion — from mandated waiting periods to second-trimester bans — have no effect on the rate at which abortions occur. (A piece of advice for any anti-abortion conspirators who may be reading — guess what? Affordable contraception and accurate sexual health education actually do!)
The other part of conservatives’ rhetorical strategy is to portray abortion as murder. In anti-abortion narratives, whether for a 20-week fetus or a fertilized egg, abortion is baby-killing. And the consequences of this rhetoric can be deeply dangerous — extremists such as Robert Dear, who shot three dead at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015 to be a “warrior for the babies,” may retaliate.
Conservatives are able to pass restrictions on abortion in state legislatures across the nation because they have the rhetoric down to an art. Policies that put conservatives’ inflated notions of moral superiority before women’s health and safety pass because their constituents often believe abortion is dangerous, shameful, criminal and should not be discussed objectively, let alone made accessible to those who need it.
And that’s precisely why the bill Leyva introduced to the California State Senate is such a game-changer. It brings abortion to college campuses and makes abortion, as the crucial health service that it is, accessible to the women who arguably need it most.
Abortion is not dangerous. It is a health service that women with different ambitions, academic goals, dreams and desires need — no amount of rhetoric and boogeyman stories will change this. Legislation to mandate access to abortion on campus finally — crucially — acknowledges this reality.
Kylie Cheung is a freshman majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs every Thursday.