Respect and autonomy for students requires access to reproductive care
For me, growing up as the child of immigrants in the U.S., the idea of going to a doctor when I was sick was hardly familiar. In this country, immigration status is frequently used to deny people health care, and my family, like many others, found the barriers to affordable health care and coverage to be just too high. We tried, therefore, to get by without any health care at all.
When I got to college, everything changed. Not only was I pursuing my dream (and my family’s dream for me) of higher education, but I finally had access to health care through the student health center. Even though I was working three to four jobs to support myself, I knew I could get basic health care nearby if needed. What’s more, I finally had access to birth control, STI screenings, and other critical services.
What I didn’t have, and what students across the country also lack, however, is access to abortion services — although students certainly seek that medical service. Students are forced to leave campus either to obtain an in-clinic abortion procedure or to pick up abortion pills. But for students who rely on most of their health care from campus health centers, finding a new provider to get abortion care is not an option. And that’s why students and allies across California are now fighting for accessible and timely access to medical services, including abortion, on college campuses.
Removing the barriers to accessing safe and timely abortion is an economic justice issue. When a student leaves campus for abortion care, it means traveling, sometimes for hours, to see a provider — and missing class and work to do so. These missed wages, not to mention transportation costs and costs of care, equate to an added financial burden that is simply unaffordable for low-income students or students supporting their families, including any children they may already have.
This additional cost affects a population of students who are already struggling to make ends meet as it is. More than half (51 percent) of University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) students are low-income. Of CSU students, 9 percent experience housing insecurity, and 21 percent experience food insecurity. At UC campuses, 42 percent of students experience food insecurity. These students, additionally, are disproportionately students of color and first-generation college students.
It’s unconscionable to deny these students access to a basic health service that can safely and simply be provided on campus. Making the abortion pill available on campus would also help destigmatize this basic health care service by sending the message to students that abortion is an integral part of health care. Offering medication abortion on campus is an important step toward upholding the bodily autonomy of students.
The good news? The College Student Right to Access Act (SB 320), which would require all UC and CSU public universities in California to provide the abortion pill at student health centers, has passed the California Senate and is now headed to the Assembly. Should this act fully become law, activists will continue to work to ensure that the full range of pregnancy and parenting-related services are accessible for all students, like in-clinic abortion care, prenatal services, and maternity care. Students also need places where they can breastfeed or pump privately and with dignity, and flexible, affordable, on-campus child care.
We know that it’s better when students make their own decisions about pregnancy and when to become a parent. Whatever they decide, their academic success should never be jeopardized. Let’s start by making the abortion pill available on campus, and keep working until every student, whether they decide to continue or end a pregnancy, has the support and resources they need to accomplish their goals.
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