In First, California Would Require Public Universities to Provide Abortion Pills

At a time when conservative states are sharply limiting abortion access, California signaled a new frontier in abortion-rights on Friday with the passage of legislation that would require all public universities in the state to provide medication abortion on campus.

The bill, which would use money raised from private donors to equip and train campus health centers, grew out of a student-led movement at the University of California, Berkeley, and it has sparked the introduction of a similar bill in Massachusetts.

Anti-abortion groups say they are likely to challenge the legislation if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs it into law. He has a month to decide. A spokesman declined to say what he will do, but last year during his campaign for governor, Mr. Newsom said he supported a similar effort.

The bill would apply to 34 campuses throughout the state, with nearly 750,000 enrolled students — 11 under the umbrella of the University of California and 23 under the California State University system. A 2018 study estimated that hundreds of students at these schools seek medication abortion each month.

“We can show the rest of the country, especially while there’s these crazy abortion bans sweeping the country,” said Zoe Murray, 23, a recent graduate of University of California Santa Barbara, who sought a medication abortion from the student health center there when she was a sophomore, but had to go off campus. “Going to university is really stressful as is, and a lot of students are struggling financially, or like me, I was struggling with my mental health at the time.”

Under the bill, as of 2023, campus health centers would be required to offer medication abortion — a process that involves taking two types of pills, legally approved to terminate pregnancies that are within 10 weeks of gestation.

Private donations of about $10.3 million, which organizers say has already been raised, would be used to train staff at university health centers and to buy ultrasound machines. State law already requires that insurers cover the cost of abortion.

The two California higher education systems did not take a position on the bill. They raised concerns about whether they would have to bear costs for logistics, liability or security, which they might then pass on to students, and said they were working with legislators to address those.

The student health program at the University of Illinois Chicago, which has about 33,300 students, currently provides medication abortion.

“We’re their regular doctor, they don’t have to walk through protesters, there’s no stigma,” said Dr. Ariel Leifer, medical director of the university’s Family Medicine Center at University Village. “It works very well, they like doing it in the comfort of their own home, the pain is manageable, it’s private.”

Berkeley students, including Adiba Khan, organized Students United for Reproductive Justice in 2015 and began trying to get the university’s health services to provide medication abortions.

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