Access to safe, legal abortion is becoming increasingly difficult for many pregnant people. And with Republicans continually focused on closing clinics, extending waiting periods and otherwise throwing roadblocks along the path to terminating an unwanted pregnancy, it won't be getting better anytime soon.
California has experienced fewer of these restrictions, but even so, pregnant individuals still find it difficult to obtain care in a timely manner. Now, state lawmakers have come up with an ingenious way to help increase access: requiring medical abortion to be available at student health centers across the state.
For many college students, campus is literally a home away from home -- and often an insular one. The dorm is their house and the cafeteria their kitchen. Many students work jobs on site for work study programs, and they often have no means of getting around other than public transportation.
Unsurprisingly, that leaves student health centers as the sole means of obtaining health care -- and it makes obtaining an abortion extremely difficult. One California university has even tried to combat unintended pregnancy by installing a vending machine that disposes emergency contraception, so it can be obtained 24-hours a day. While that is an innovative change, it is just one step in addressing a major problem.
Democratic state Senator Connie Leyva wants to go even further, by offering RU 486 -- a medical abortion regime -- at all University of California and California State University health centers.
"A measure by state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, would require the systems to provide abortion pills at their student health centers," reports Capitol Public Radio. "Leyva introduced the bill after UC Berkeley declined student petitions to provide the medication at its on-campus health center. Cal student Adiba Khan read the letter of a classmate to the Senate Health committee. She described missing class, work and her internship as she searched for an off-campus provider. 'I lost about $300 throughout this entire process,' Khan read. 'I lost days of lecture that could help me get a higher grade. I lost valuable experience from my internship.'"
Leyva may have been the first legislator to propose the idea, but it's one that every progressive lawmaker should consider adopting in their states, too.
As doctors recently noted, RU 486 -- also known as Mifepristone – is a safe and extremely effective way to end a pregnancy, provided it is used early in gestation. Because it consists of simply taking medication, there is no reason whatsoever that it couldn't be used over-the-counter or without a doctor's supervision.
Dispensing RU 486 at a health center, just like prescription birth control, is just a small step toward that eventual goal, but one that provides extremely limited risks and massive gains for those who need timely local abortion care.
Abortion opponents, of course, are objecting strenuously to the proposal. Local anti-abortion groups claim that the procedure poses safety risks, despite the fact that medical abortion has resulted in "serious adverse affects" in only about 0.05 percent of cases, according to Leyva.
The most common complication from the medication is that it sometimes does not successfully end the pregnancy -- a fact that the movement has actually turned into their own "abortion reversal" project. In addition to the "safety" argument, abortion opponents are also relying on their old standby: the "taxpayers funding abortion" claim.
For her part, Deanna Wallace of Americans United for Life told the Christian Post that the bill "is just another attempt to force taxpayers to subsidize the abortion industry."
The California bill -- if it does become law -- wouldn't go into effect until at least 2020, and is already facing a number of changes.
One amendment suggests that a doctor or medical practitioner be brought onto campus in order to facilitate the medical abortion. While that would still relieve the need to leave campus, as well as the costs and missed class time that would be required, it would place a larger burden on reproductive health groups to supply an additional -- and largely unnecessary -- provider.
Medical abortion is safe, and, if used early, it is almost always effective. The medical effects are not "safety issues" but the inevitable symptoms of any miscarriage, be it natural or medically induced.
There is no reason that RU 486 shouldn't be offered in every student center -- and by whatever health care worker is available at the health center on that day. California may be the first to attempt this approach, but every school system should consider this option, as the federal government continues chipping away at abortion access.