A group of Fresno State students is fighting against a bill that would provide abortion pills at student health centers across California’s public university campuses.
But advocates say that if supplied at state universities, the medication – which is first administered by a professional, then later taken at home – will eliminate hurdles for many low-income students seeking an abortion if less than 10 weeks pregnant.
“The state has an interest in ensuring that every pregnant person in California who wants to have an abortion can obtain access to that care as easily and as early in pregnancy as possible. When pregnant young people decide that abortion is the best option for them, having early, accessible care can help them stay on track to achieve their educational and other aspirational life plans,” states the proposed legislation, which passed the state Senate Education Committee last week and the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. Further legislative hurdles must be cleared before it becomes law.
Bernadette Tasy and other members of the anti-abortion group, Fresno State Students for Life, traveled to Sacramento to urge the Legislature not to pass the bill.
Tasy, 22, successfully sued a Fresno State professor last year in a First Amendment case after he removed her anti-abortion messages on campus sidewalks. The story made national headlines.
400,000Students at California’s public universities who are female
She said the bill is unnecessary – that there is plenty of access to abortions in California – and that she’s passionate about the issue because her mother was a successful teen parent.
“This bill undermines women by telling them they need abortion in order to be successful in school. We must empower women and let them know that they can be a good student and a good mother,” Tasy said. “Nowhere in the bill does it address the needs of pregnant and parenting students. This is not a pro-choice bill. It is a pro-abortion one.”
But Megan Bronson, a Fresno State student who has helped lead reproductive justice events on campus, said the proposed legislation is a reminder of “the dark gaps” in healthcare for women.
“It is important that our on-campus clinics do everything they can to support their students, which includes comprehensive reproductive health services. It only makes sense that the campus clinic where students access birth control, STI (sexually transmitted infection) testing and pregnancy tests also includes access to medication-induced abortion,” she said. “Why does a student need a referral for an oral medication?”
This bill undermines women by telling them they need abortion in order to be successful in school.
Fresno State student Bernadette Tasy
Bronson said when it comes down to it, the opposition is solely political.
“Not offering these essential medications on college campuses is just another way for the right to restrict abortion care, rather than actually care for the well being of female students,” she said. “When we restrict access to abortion medications, we are putting the burden of possible financial crisis, transportation issues and sometimes dangerous at-home abortions on female students.”
But John Gerardi, CEO of Right to Life of Central California, an anti-abortion organization based in Fresno, said this is about more than the moral argument against it. By providing the pill, colleges will essentially be operating abortion clinics, he said. While the proposed funding would be from private donors, Gerardi said university health centers will be overwhelmed.
“Our general moral stance on abortion is it’s the taking of human life. Beyond that, though, student health centers are not set up to handle something like chemical abortions,” he said. “The point of a student health center is to provide basic, initial services and then direct students to actual hospitals or more well-equipped medical providers. There’s no way around the fact that it’s going to result in increased liability costs to the university.”
Not offering these essential medications on college campuses is just another way for the right to restrict abortion care, rather than actually care for the well being of female students.
Fresno State student Megan Bronson
Gerardi said that the abortion pill, which causes cramping and bleeding similar to an early miscarriage, should not be compared to other oral medications and “can be a very serious and traumatic thing in a woman's life.” But studies report it’s both safe and effective.
According to a medical study released earlier this month, of 220 women who took the pills, only two reported having major complications, which were infection.
Pedro Elias, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, said misinformation is part of the problem. The abortion pill is not the “morning-after pill,” which is emergency contraception that is available over the counter and on college campuses. And it’s not dangerous.
“There are myths regarding it, and many times misinformation from other channels causes chaos,” he said. “It’s unfortunate but folks put information out there that is false.”
Elias said Senate Bill 320 is an important step to ensure access to abortion, which is a constitutional right, and will especially help low-income Fresno-area college students.
“It’s already challenging for women to get to a health center that provides abortion services, and it depends on their healthcare provider if they’re open to that service,” he said. “This is an opportunity for women to have another option – to own their own bodies. We support that women have access and the right to decide when it’s time to plan a family.”
Fresno State deferred questions to the California State University Chancellor’s Office. The law, if passed, would also impact University of California campuses and would be implemented in 2022.
Toni Molle, public affairs director for the CSU chancellor, said the university system has not taken a position on SB 320, but it working with the author, Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino. The CSU is concerned that not all its campus health centers would be able to handle the additional responsibility created by the law.
“The availability of some health-related services varies greatly across the 23 campuses – for example, some CSU campuses such as Fresno State have pharmacies built into their health centers, while others do not,” Molle said. “Currently our CSU health centers offer basic health services, however, the administration of medications still requires a level of expertise that our health center staff may not have.”
Another unknown, she said, is what new expenses may result for Fresno State under the law.