A student government resolution passed two years ago at UC Berkeley inspired legislation that would require public colleges in California to offer medication abortion in campus health centers.
The California state Senate Appropriations Committee advanced SB 320 last week; the Senate Education Committee approved the measure a week earlier. It will advance next to the full Senate and Assembly. The bill was largely shaped and inspired by conversation between female college students and their lawmakers—and its success is an inspiring testament to the power of young women raising their voices and demanding change.
In March 2016, prior to the bill’s introduction to the state Senate, UC Berkeley’s student government passed a resolution urging the university to carry mifepristone, the abortion pill, in its campus health centers. Adiba Khan, director of Berkeley’s Students United for Reproductive Justice, and other members of the group later met with university leaders and campus health center administrators about the matter. When UC Berkeley administrators failed to act, Khan and the SURJ brought the issue to state lawmakers.
“When they were denied, they brought the issue to us,” Sen. Connie Leyva told NPR, “and I thought that this was something that young women should have access to, because it is their constitutional right.” Levya introduced SB 320 in the state Senate last February; the legislation was a collaborative effort between state legislators and students pioneered by the California Women’s Policy Institute.
College students face various barriers to abortion access—putting not only to their health and safety, but also the quality of their educations at risk. Women may be forced to miss class, work shifts or internships to obtain abortions, and they may struggle to pay for fees for transportation or the procedure itself. These barriers are even greater for students attending college in more rural parts of California, where going to a women’s health clinic can be a day-long venture.
But SB 320 means even more to students than a matter of convenience and comprehensive care. It would mark a fundamental shift in attitudes toward abortion on campuses across the state. “It will transform the state of reproductive rights and justice,” Khan told Ms., “by making abortion to be considered a visible, regular and normal health service.”