A bill that would provide access to abortion pills on all public university campuses in California is headed to a final vote before the end of the month after passing the Assembly Appropriations Committee Thursday.
SB 320 would mandate that all University of California and California State University campuses provide medication abortion — mifepristone and misoprostol, which work together to end a pregnancy — at student health centers on campus. The bill would grant $200,000 to each health center to pay for the service.
But Bernadette Tasy, president of Fresno State Students for Life, said her club is concerned that SB 320 would be funded in part through student fees.
“There’s no prohibition in the bill from using student fees; in fact, it’s sort of implied that they will be used eventually,” she said. “I don’t want my student fees to go towards it.”
Analysis from the Appropriations Committee says that the bill’s sponsors believe that the estimated funding will be able to cover the start-up costs of the program. However, the analysis notes that both the UC and CSU systems have “shared concerns regarding the bill’s potential costs to their (student health centers), including administrative costs, liability due to complications, and campus security.”
“While private funding may cover or help cover many of these costs, the segments have concerns with the uncertainty surrounding expenditures necessary for compliance and the pressure the mandate could place on their general fund or to increase student health fees,” the analysis says.
Besides the funding concern, Tasy said the bill sends the wrong message to pregnant students.
“Being a pregnant and parenting student is hard, but it’s not something women should be afraid of,” Tasy said. “Parenting students can be successful, too.”
Tasy said her group does not have any demonstrations on campus planned. She said the group may look to advocate against the bill on Title IX grounds, or offer information about abortion pill reversal on campus, but will wait to see whether SB 320 becomes law.
Dr. Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC San Francisco and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, said that public universities largely already have what it takes to provide medication abortions in terms of facilities and staff. Some additional training and more equipment, like the capacity to provide ultrasounds, might be needed, he said.
Grossman said research has found a demand for abortion among college-aged women in California. Currently, students seeking abortion services have to leave campus, a hardship for those without transportation, or those who have to coordinate their class and work schedules to make appointments.
“Medication abortion is part of basic healthcare and has been integrated successfully as such in other systems,” Grossman said. “There’s no reason it should not be provided, but universities just need this push.”
After the initial start-up costs, abortion services on campus would be paid for like any other medical procedure, through cash or billing insurance, Grossman said.
The issue of insurance has been brought up as SB 320 moved through the Legislature. The UC system requires that students have health insurance and offers a student health insurance plan, but the CSU system does not have such requirements.
“The UC and CSU both have examined whether Medi-Cal billing would be a cost-effective means to providing services to students on an ongoing basis,” the Appropriations’ analysis read. “Both UC and CSU indicate the administrative costs for billing Medi-Cal likely would be more than the funding they would reimbursed.”
Grossman also said that expanding abortion access at universities like Fresno State means offering the service to students who may come from small towns where there are no abortion providers.
“It’s even more important in rural areas, where there are limited options in the community,” Grossman said.
On-campus services might also allow students to obtain the procedure earlier in their pregnancies, Grossman said, and help them stay in school and complete their degrees.
Fresno State deferred comment on SB 320 to the CSU Chancellor’s Office.
Fresno Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula supported the bill when it was in the Assembly Higher Education Committee.
“As a doctor, I believe we need to ensure that women are aware of all of their health care options so that they can make the best choices about their health and their bodies,” Arambula said. “We should eliminate barriers that prevent women from making decisions about their reproductive health.”
SB 320 could still be amended before its final vote, which will need to happen by Aug. 31, the close of the 2017-18 legislative session. If passed, the bill will head to the governor’s desk.
Universities would have until Jan. 1, 2022 to implement its mandates.