More than one-quarter of abortions in the United States are obtained by women ages 18 to 24—roughly college age—yet many students’ access to the procedure is limited by state laws, the location of clinics and, in particular, a lack of reproductive health services on campus.
The students’ association at UC Berkeley is fighting to change that. Last month, the association passed a resolution urging University Health Services (UHS) to begin providing medication abortions—the non-surgical option using pills—at the campus health center, called Tang.
According to the bill’s text,
…abortion services were available in the 1980s at UHS and stopped when the provider left and no other clinician was trained in providing services. Currently, Tang does have staff trained/skilled abortion providers and is able to provide medication abortion. … UHS is a health center dedicated to meeting the health needs of students in order for students to be able to upkeep their academic well-being. Abortion is a common health-care service and access to abortion is necessary and relevant in student life.
Medication abortion has been legal in the U.S. since 2000. That year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved mifepristone, one of the drugs in a two-drug regimen used to induce an abortion. Medication abortion recently became more accessible when the FDA updated the guidelines on mifepristone, reducing the dosage and number of required visits to a clinic, and broadening the list of healthcare professionals who can administer the drug. Taken in a regimen with misoprostol, mifepristone blocks progesterone, a hormone that prepares the uterus to carry a pregnancy; misoprostol then induces uterine cramping to help end the pregnancy.
While abortion is more accessible in California than in many other states, Berkeley students may be required to make up to four clinic visits—on top of already-packed school schedules—to obtain a medication abortion, according to an op-ed by Meghan Warner, Adiba Khan and Susannah Champlin, directors of Students United for Reproductive Justice at Berkeley. The authors write that students who are covered by the school’s health insurance plan must pay a $300 deductible and 10 percent of the cost of the procedure—which can be up to $800—and make pregnancy testing, counseling and medical visits at two different clinics, all to swallow a couple of pills.
Not only is the process expensive and time-consuming, Vice reports that there’s just one clinic that provides medication abortions within walking distance of the school. That means wait times can be long, which can further complicate things for a student seeking a medication abortion since the pills must be taken within 70 days of a woman’s last menstrual period.
A spokesperson from UC Berkeley, Roqua Montez, responded to the bill indirectly, telling The Washington Times, “UC Berkeley’s University Health Services fully supports women’s access to the full spectrum of contraception, emergency contraception, abortion and other pregnancy alternatives. Fortunately, the Berkeley campus is surrounded by a high-quality, well-established network of health providers who are expert in this area.”
Anyone wishing to support the students’ bill—faculty, students, alumni and community members—can sign this petition urging UC Berkeley’s chancellor and medical directors to make medication abortion available at the campus health center.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Debra Sweet licensed under Creative Commons 2.0