The following comes from an Apr. 19 story in the Mercury News.
There’s a new battleground for the debate over abortion: California’s public universities.
The Golden State could become the first in the country to require its public universities to offer abortion pills on campus under a legislative proposal that passed through the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday.
“This bill fundamentally is about access,” said Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, the bill’s author. “It’s about access to a woman’s constitutional right.”
Reflecting the political chasm between California and Washington, the proposal marks a stark contrast to the ongoing debate in Congress over women’s health — whether to cut federal funding from Planned Parenthood’s massive network of reproductive health clinics, which provide abortion services. While the California bill sailed through the health committee, it is already facing strong opposition from anti-abortion groups such as the California Family Council, which are emphasizing safety concerns and costs.
“To my knowledge, no other state has gone so far as to try to require chemical abortion coverage on campus,” said Jonathan Keller, CEO of the Fresno-based California Family Council. “Unfortunately, I think this is really an overreach by Sen. Leyva.”
Amendments to Senate Bill 320 on Wednesday dropped the mandate from community colleges and gave universities a more cost-effective option of allowing outside providers to come to campus for the service, rather than providing the two-dose abortion medication at their student health centers. The on-campus requirement would take effect in January 2020.
Student activists at UC Berkeley raised the issue last year when they tried to convince the student health center to provide the pills and ran into roadblocks.
“I’m upset that abortion is so highly politicized,” said Adiba Khan, a junior and one of the leaders of the campaign, in a recent interview. “It’s not evil. It’s a good thing, and it should be easily accessible to anyone.”
At the hearing, Khan read a statement from a classmate who described the ordeal she underwent while trying to get an abortion last year. She also noted that UC Berkeley’s student health center already performs IUD birth-control procedures, which, she argues are more complex.
Dr. Karen Meckstroth, a clinical professor at UC San Francisco who testified in support of the bill, said Tylenol and Viagra were riskier than this medication. Leyva said it had “serious adverse affects” in 0.05 percent of cases.
“The evidence is clear that medical abortion is 98 percent effective for early abortion and extremely safe,” Meckstroth said.
But questions remain about the cost of implementation, how much of the increase would be passed on to students, and the extent to which campuses are equipped to take it on. UC Berkeley officials have told students they would need to upgrade facilities and ramp up security, Khan said.
“I am totally in support of the discussion, the concept,” said Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, who heads the Senate Health Committee, “but there’s a lot more work to be done.”
In an interview after the hearing, Leyva said she did not want to rush the bill through before pinning down those details — such as whether a doctor or a nurse-practitioner would administer the medication. “We want to make sure we do it the right way,” she said of the proposal, which still hasn’t undergone a cost analysis.
SB 320 is co-sponsored by ACCESS Women’s Health Justice, ACT for Women and Girls and the Women’s Foundation of California’s Women’s Policy Institute. Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California also support the proposal. Opponents include the Catholic Conference of California, the California Family Council and other anti-abortion groups.
The bill heads next to the Senate Education Committee.
UC and CSU have yet to take a formal position, but both took a “position of concern” on Wednesday.