This summer, I had the privilege of working as an intern at the National Network of Abortion Funds. I went into the internship having closely followed and written about reproductive rights for years, and emerge from it educated about the issue’s nuances. From challenges the movement currently faces to be more inclusive of trans and non-binary people, to the inadvertently damaging effect of statements like “only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion,” there was a lot that I hadn’t previously considered.
But as we begin a new academic year, my thoughts are with activists at UC Berkeley and women’s health and leadership organizations I had the fortune of speaking with — activists who have been at the forefront of bringing access to medication abortion, a two-pill dosage of misoprostol and mifepristone that terminates pregnancies by inhibiting the hormones necessary for pregnancy, to college campuses for the past two years. A student-led campaign moved from the university’s student government to a national policy institute to the California state legislature, where it has passed the California State Assembly and one state Senate committee. The legislation is currently on hold as research continues to be conducted.
Meanwhile, there’s been radio silence from USC administration, as California public colleges are poised to bring access to abortion to their health centers. USC would be virtually unaffected by such legislation being signed into law, but that doesn’t mean the University shouldn’t take action on the issue of abortion accessibility on campus.
For some context, more than 1,000 restrictions on reproductive rights have already been introduced in state legislatures across the country this year as of April. The path to the procedure is paved with financial, geographic and a range of legal obstacles. And while plenty of demographics face their own unique, burdensome and often dangerous barriers, young people arguably face the most. Across the country, minors are being told that their bodies are the property of their parents or guardians, as they are prohibited from terminating a pregnancy without parental consent or permission from a judge.
And for young women in college, the many trips associated with getting an abortion mean missing class and work as well as throwing money down the drain — all of which are unaffordable to students with severely limited budgets. The burden for students in rural parts of California, where the nearest clinic offering abortion services can be an all-day road trip away, and especially for the many without cars, is even greater.
When it comes down to it, this is a Title IX issue in no uncertain terms. A range of policies and circumstances around abortion, who needs it and who is able to access it — intended or not — are affecting who is able to have a quality education and achieve academic and professional success based on gender. Male college students will never have to undergo the trauma and anxiety that come with an unwanted pregnancy, nor the exhaustion that comes with navigating every nuanced step to obtain the procedure. They won’t wake up with morning sickness or miss class, work or internships to drive for hours for an ultrasound and then the procedure the next day.
The argument that universities like USC have no liability to offer abortion access because they provide free condoms is a moot point: Should have, could have, would haves don’t terminate unintended pregnancies, and the insinuation that the only people seeking abortions are irresponsible, flighty young women is a baseless stereotype. Research has shown again and again that the majority of young women who have abortions used some form of contraception when they conceived.
However, none of this is to say that the fight for medication abortion access at the Engemann Student Health Center would be an easy one for students to have with administration, nor for administration to have with conservative donors.
Even at UC Berkeley, where the student government overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of health center medication abortion access, a leader of the Students United for Reproductive Justice talked to me about why the Cal administration has stalled on responding to this demand, despite the group’s demonstration of where adequate funding could be obtained. Some of these concerns, such as fear of drawing violent protesters to the health center or losing federal funding, were more valid than others, such as concerns about the safety of abortion.
And speaking of the issue of safety and abortion, here’s something I observed long before my internship this summer: Within the abortion rights dialogue, anti-abortion lawmakers are only concerned with women’s safety as far as they can use this “concern” to their advantage by further stigmatizing the procedure or by justifying barriers that make it more difficult for women to make safe, independent decisions about their bodies. The procedure — as well as the medication, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for years — is objectively safe. Rather, protesters and restrictive laws are what lead to injuries from self-termination and our current national maternal mortality crisis.
But what does this all mean for young women as they return to or perhaps set foot on their college campuses for the first time? Make no mistake: This isn’t about politics or spreading partisan ideology — it’s about gender parity in education, and what USC can and must do to give female students equal opportunity.