If California state Sen. Connie M. Leyva has her way, students of “The Golden State’s” four-year public universities will have access to abortion medication on campus.
Last year, Leyva introduced “The College Student Right to Access Act,” also known as SB 320, which would require the 34 University of California and California State University campuses to provide medication abortions in their health care centers. On Jan. 29, the state Senate passed the bill by a vote of 25 to 13, leaving it to the state Assembly, which is expected to vote on it later this spring.
“[This bill] is essential because medication abortions have to be administered in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, and most women don’t realize they’re pregnant till they’re about five-to-six weeks along,” Leyva, a Chino Democrat representing the 20th state Senate District, told Fierce. “So this is about making sure they have access and are comfortable on campus. It’s about them not having to go out. It’s more convenient for them and a way to save them money, because it can be very expensive to go off campus for the procedure.”
A medication abortion, more commonly called the “abortion pill,” is a safe, two-step process in which someone seeking to terminate an early pregnancy takes the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, with one administered at a doctor’s office and the other at their home 24-to-48 hours later. The method is considered so harmless that, despite 34 states requiring that a licensed physician be present to provide the medication, the World Health Organization has determined that telemedicine abortions are safe.
The idea behind the bill came from a group of students at the University of California, Berkeley in 2016. Adiba Khan, co-founder of her school’s Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) organization, noticed that while the university’s Tang Center provided various forms of contraception, including birth control pills, condoms and the morning-after pill, and though the students’ health insurance included abortion coverage, medical abortion wasn’t an option on-campus.
Khan, identifying the challenges that students with unwanted pregnancies face — like missing class and work to seek the procedure off-campus and spending additional funds to commute — drafted a resolution for the undergraduate student body that called on the Tang Center to provide medication abortions. It eventually caught the attention of The Women’s Foundation of California, an Oakland-based group dedicated to achieving gender, racial and economic justice, which brought the resolution to Leyva.
“The young voices are the future. They will change the world,” the lawmaker said. “I like to joke that our young people will change the world that we screwed up. They know! They are on the frontlines. They know what’s important to them, so it’s critically important for us to listen to them.”
The Hyde Amendment bars federal funds from paying for abortion procedures, so no taxpayer money could support the measure should it pass. Instead, a group of private funders, including the Women’s Foundation of California, which has agreed to supply at least $14 million, and the Tara Health Foundation, have agreed to pay for training and equipment.
“Women go to college to try to get an education and better themselves, so that they can go out and make money and have a family, if they so choose. So when you find yourself in a situation where you’re pregnant, and it’s unwanted because it’s just not the right time, this would give you the option to stay on campus and have a medical abortion, which is a much easier procedure than a surgical abortion,” Leyva said.
Elected to represent the 20th State Senate District, which includes Bloomington, Chino, Colton, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Montclair, Muscoy, Ontario, Pomona, Rialto and San Bernardino, in 2014, Leyva has long supported women’s rights. She introduced a bill requiring law enforcement agencies and forensic laboratories to quickly analyze and test rape kit evidence, sponsored a bill that eliminated the statute of limitation for rape and co-authored a bill that called for pro-choice license plates to help fund reproductive health care, among more.
Should SB 320 become law, Leyva would like for it to act as a model for other states facing attacks on reproductive rights.
“In California, it’s more critical than ever that we lead the way now. We have always led the way, but with this administration, we can get distracted by his tweets and the things he says and miss what’s happening around the country with women: States are rolling back reproductive rights. So California is in a critical time to step forward and make sure women’s rights are protected,” she said.
At the heart of her bill is access, for all young people, regardless of income and race, to receive a necessary, legal and safe procedure in a setting that is comfortable and stigma-free.
“My hope is that by making this available on campus, all students will understand this is a part of life and a choice women have the ability to make,” she said.