How California students are bringing abortion access to their college campuses

Surina Khan is CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California. For Women’s Health Month, Khan shares why students need access to medical abortions in college campus health centers, and how students are leading this fight for reproductive justice.

I believe that those closest to a problem are in the best position to solve it. California students have sparked a statewide effort to address a problem they identified in their own lives — lack of access to abortion care on college campuses.

Kaitlyn Trevino is one of the many students who have come forward to tell their stories. Initially, Kaitlyn went to the student health center at UC Berkeley to confirm that she was pregnant — and she knew she wanted to get an abortion. To get one, Kaitlyn had to go to an emergency room (at a cost of $200 that she couldn’t afford), make an appointment with a social worker (prompting unwanted questions from her employer), and go alone to an off-campus clinic. Kaitlyn’s experience galvanized her and her classmates to demand the abortion pill on their campus. Earlier this year, the state Senate passed the College Student Right to Access Act (SB320) to make the abortion pill on campus a reality for all public university students.

Currently, no California public university student health center provides abortion care.

This can come as a shock to students, many of whom consider the student health center to be their main source of trusted medical care. Needing to go off campus if they decide to end a pregnancy means missing class, missing work, going to a provider they don’t know, or even traveling hours to an appointment. Research has backed up the harmful impact of these barriers.

Young people already have plenty to worry about. Students, including those who are parents, already face too many barriers to accessing the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, and these barriers disproportionately harm students of color, low-income students, and first-generation college students. Why should these students have to leave campus to receive care that student health centers are well-equipped to provide? We can, and must, do better to lift barriers and create opportunities for students and all young people across California.

Thanks to the incredible work and vision of student activists like Kaitlyn, Adiba Khan and Meghan Warner (co-directors of UC Berkeley’s Students United for Reproductive Justice), allied organizations, and legislators like Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) who is authoring SB320, the College Student Right to Access Act is on its way to the California Assembly — and hopefully to the Governor’s desk.

If signed, SB320 would make the abortion pill available at every public university student health center.

This idea enjoys such widespread support that a consortium of funders, including the Women’s Foundation of California, have committed to provide the necessary funding to implement medical abortion on California’s public university campuses if SB320 becomes law. The funds would go to training resources, new equipment, and clinic and student safety. All funders share the ultimate goal of ensuring that student health centers can provide medical abortion to students — and we are committed to even further increasing this access. While SB320 would only apply to the University of California and California State University campuses, it will allow community colleges and private colleges to opt in to the funding program.

Lifting barriers to abortion care ensures that each of us can make our own decisions about pregnancy, helps prevent women from being pushed into poverty, and enables our families to thrive.

No student should be forced to jeopardize their education or employment — or face needless financial and emotional stress — to obtain necessary reproductive care.

We have so much to be proud of in California, and we are fortunate to continue advancing positive change. Offering medical abortion in campus health centers is an important step forward as we support students’ access to reproductive care.

Follow Surina Khan and the Women’s Foundation of California on Twitter.

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