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California law could force state-funded colleges to provide abortion pills

If state Sen. Connie Leyva’s (D) bill becomes law, California’s public colleges could soon be required to provide abortion medication to any student who requests it. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

California’s public colleges might become the first in the United States to be forced to offer abortion medication directly to students who ask for it.

The bill, introduced earlier this year by Democratic state Sen. Connie Leyva, would require the University of California, the University of Southern California, and the Golden State’s community colleges to provide abortifacients and abortion counseling at their health centers, rather than referring students to off-campus facilities, which has been standard practice, The Mercury News reported Wednesday.

While the bill would not cover surgical abortions, it would mandate state-funded colleges to offer an abortion pill that can be taken up to 10 weeks after a woman’s last period. Arguments for the bill will be heard Wednesday by the Senate Health Committee.

“I think that it’s incredibly important because women of all ages, especially young women, need to make sure they have control over their future — that they have a choice of when they want to incorporate a family into their lives,” Leyva said, according to the Sacramento Bee, when she introduced the proposal in mid-March.

The bill was inspired by a student movement at UC Berkeley led by an activist group called Students United for Reproductive Justice. In March, junior Adiba Khan told The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley’s student-run newspaper, that students who wanted an abortion had to face too many “bureaucratic hurdles.”

“You have to do mandatory counseling,” Kahn said. “You basically have to disclose to more people that you want an abortion. … It’s so stigmatized.”

Kahn told The Mercury News she is “upset that abortion is so highly politicized.”

“It’s not evil," she said. "It’s a good thing, and it should be easily accessible to anyone.”

Leyva told the Californian last month that she is seeking to make access to abortion easier for students. She said having to go off campus for such a procedure makes “a hard situation more stressful.”

“I want to make sure women have access to these services — that they have a choice of whether they want to terminate their pregnancy,” she said. “It should happen on campus so they don’t have to travel off campus, which could be a great expense and could make a hard situation more stressful.”

Groups that support the legislation, known as Senate Bill 320, argue forcing students to leave campus to end a pregnancy can lead to unnecessary emotional, educational, and financial trauma. Supporters also worry that funding for Planned Parenthood, which is a major provider of off-campus abortion treatment, could be cut by the Republican-led Congress, and requiring on-campus abortion treatment sidesteps that threat.

President Donald Trump has vowed to defund Planned Parenthood unless the health care organization stops providing abortion all together. That suggestion, however, was swiftly rejected by officials at Planned Parenthood, which benefits from roughly $500 million in federal payments every year.

But Leyva’s proposal is not without its detractors. Conservative organizations like the Catholic Conference of California, Inc., and the California Family Council have spoken out against the legislation.

“Not only will this bill destroy the lives of innocent children, but the chemical abortion medication being mandated has a notorious reputation for being very painful and traumatic,” California Family Council CEO Jonathan Keller said in a statement. “These drugs are known for not just causing physical pain to the mother, but psychological anguish that could last a lifetime.”

Neither UC nor CSU have taken a formal position on the issue yet. However, officials at both campuses have told lawmakers that adding such abortion services could be costly and would likely come with a steep increase in student fees coupled with the closure of some campus health facilities.

“Even though it is a pill,” CSU spokeswoman Toni Molle told The Mercury News, “the administration of the medication still requires a level of expertise our health center staff may not have.”

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