Students Across California Want Abortion Care on Campus—And They’re Not Done Fighting for It

California Governor Jerry Brown last week vetoed a popular measure that would have expanded abortion access for college students across the state.

Nearly three years ago, students at the University of California in Berkeley began fighting for better access to abortion on campus. The student government ultimately passed a resolution endorsing their call for on-campus medication abortion access, but administrators then failed to act on their demands—so students turned to local lawmakers. 

California’s College Student Right to Access Act, known in the legislature as SB 320, was written by three reproductive justice activists from UC Berkeley. The measure, introduced by state Senator Connie Leyva, passed through the state legislature with overwhelming support. A group of donors even came forward willing to fund its mandate: on-campus medication abortion access for all public college students in the Golden State intending to terminate a pregnancy in the first 10 weeks.

But the fierce and proactive attempt to expand women’s reproductive rights was stopped in its tracks by one man who deemed it inconsequential: Last Monday, Jerry Brown vetoed the act, calling it “not necessary.”

But just because Governor Brown was never in need of abortion care on campus doesn’t mean no one else is. More than 500 students in the UC and California State University systems seek out abortions monthly, and these students would have a much easier time getting the care they need if their university health centers had the means to offer it. Many students have to travel far distances to get to appointments, and, for a medical abortion, usually need to make it to at least two appointments.

Costs go up with every additional hurdle put in front of women seeking abortions—which was the case fo Jessy Rosales, who opened up to Huffington Post about her own off-campus abortion at 20: 

Jessy Rosales was a 20-year-old student at the University of California, Riverside, when she got pregnant. She had used protection and was not ready to become a mom, so she went to her campus health center to ask about the abortion pill—actually a combination of two medications that can safely end a pregnancy.

She left with a list of recommended providers. But the first clinic she called told her it did not perform abortions. And the second was a crisis pregnancy center—a facility that seeks to dissuade women from having abortions.

“I’m a first-generation student. For a large majority of my life, my parents didn’t have health insurance, so I didn’t really know what I was doing trying to navigate through the medical system,” Rosales, now 22, recalled in a conversation with HuffPost.

Finally, more than two months after her positive pregnancy test, she went to a nearby Planned Parenthood health center, where she was able to get an in-clinic abortion. It cost her roughly $400—a lot of money for a student supporting herself with part-time work and federal loans—and she was told she was too far along to be a candidate for the abortion pill at that point. (It must be taken before 10 weeks of gestation.)

“Had they provided abortion medication on my campus, I would have been able to get the care I needed when I needed it,” Rosales said.

Two-thirds of UC students and one-third of CSU students don’t own a car; 62 percent of them also live 30 minutes or more from a clinic. Often, these clinics are not open on the weekend, which only adds to their burden. 

Going through with a legal and time-sensitive medical procedure shouldn’t take that much work. Seizing an opportunity to ease the process of managing an unwanted pregnancy is far from “not necessary” for the students who must arrange transportation, cover costs, miss class or skip work to make it possible to access the care they need.

“Governor Jerry Brown, on his own, determined what was a legitimate burden in accessing abortion and neglected the experiences of countless students who explained the obstacles and burdens they faced when making a reproductive health decision as a California public university student,” Adiba Khan, one of the students who led the fight for SB 320, told Ms. “To get elected, he has expressed he is ‘pro-choice,’ but then when given the chance to expand access, to what he has repetitively claimed he believes is a right, he vetoes it. This is the behavior of a coward. He has disappointed thousands of students and denied them better agency over their futures.”

Students from across California joined in Khan’s frustration, taking to social media to slam Brown for his decision after news broke that he was vetoing the legislation.

Advocates and activists from across the country also weighed in, showing solidarity with the students who made SB 320 possible and calling on Brown and other lawmakers to do better by the women they serve.

“At its core, SB 320 affirmed the constitutional right of college students to access abortion care promptly and without delay,” Senator Leyva wrote in a statement. “As the Trump Administration continues to unravel many of the critical health care protections and services for women, legislation such as this is urgently needed to make sure that Californians are able to access the full range of reproductive care regardless of where they may live.”

She also vowed to continue fighting. “In the months and years ahead,” she declared, “I will continue fighting to make sure that college students have access to medication abortion on college campuses. I am hopeful that our incoming Legislature and Governor will agree that the right to choose isn’t just a slogan, but rather a commitment to improving true access to abortion for students across California.”

Miranda Martin is a feminist writer and activist and an editorial intern at Ms. She has written for a variety of publications and been published by The Unedit and Project Consent. Miranda recently graduated from University of Wisconsin La Crosse with a major in Interpersonal Communications and a double minor in Creative Writing and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She loves to travel, read, exercise and daydream about the fall of the patriarchy.

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