New laws may soon force some public universities to offer abortion pills

ByDonald L. Leech

May 27, 2022

Within the next two months, Massachusetts lawmakers will likely vote on a bill that, if passed, would require public universities in the state to make medical abortions available at their health centers. This type of legislation is an effort by lawmakers in blue states to make abortion more accessible, as many anticipate an influx of patients from states that have imposed severe restrictions on the procedure and may soon ban it altogether.

The Massachusetts bill is set to pass as the country awaits what is expected to be the biggest change to laws governing abortion since the Supreme Court enshrined it as a constitutional right with the Roe vs. Wade decision. A draft notice that was leaked to the press this month showed a majority of judges were prepared to overturn that decision, as well as the decision in the 1992 case Family planning c. Casey, which would most likely prompt about half of all states to make abortion illegal.

The Massachusetts bill follows a similar law that California enacted in 2019 that will go into effect next year. Under the law, University of California and California State University campuses will offer students medical abortions, which involve taking two pills within 48 hours during the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy.

Massachusetts legislation is about health equity, said Lindsay N. Sabadosa, state representative and sponsor of the bill. She proposed it after speaking with a group of students from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who told her about California law.

“Students often find it difficult to get to clinics,” Sabadosa said. “We definitely have ‘deserted access’.”

According to a recent study, 50 to 115 students at public universities in Massachusetts get medical abortions every month, and students in some parts of the state have to travel 42 miles to reach the facilities. While some can get to a facility in less than 20 minutes by public transport, the average travel time is around one hour and 40 minutes each way.

Carrie N. Baker, professor of women’s and gender studies at Smith College and one of the study’s authors, found that medical abortions can be expensive and patients often cannot get them right away. after. The average cost was $680, according to the study, and the average wait time for an appointment was eight days. The facilities that Baker and his co-author studied all accepted insurance.

“We are very familiar with the situations that students find themselves in,” Baker said. “Their time is quite tight, they work, especially low-income students.”

Baker said most of her students at Smith might not have trouble accessing an abortion, but she also teaches UMass students because the two institutions are part of a consortium. Students from either campus who need an abortion at a clinic would have to travel two and a half hours by bus to Springfield, she said.

“People have abortions in college because carrying a pregnancy to term interferes with your education and your future,” Baker said. “Providing abortion on campus is a gesture of racial justice, economic justice and gender justice.”

Every public university should offer this – it’s a no-brainer. All students should demand this from their health centers now.

Ushma Upadhyay, associate professor of midwifery at UCSF

Under the Massachusetts bill, community colleges would not be required to offer medical abortions, but could participate in them. Baker said some community colleges in the state don’t have health centers.

Another hurdle, Sabadosa said, is that on some campuses, when students call their health center after hours, the call is automatically forwarded to campus police. The legislator said there are ways around this.

The Massachusetts bill is modeled on the law passed in California. Researchers in that state found that most students had to travel more than 30 minutes one way on public transportation to get to a facility offering abortions, with some having to travel an hour and a half.

“This is a form of gender discrimination and could also interfere with student productivity and disproportionately impact women and people at risk of becoming pregnant,” said Ushma D. Upadhyay, associate professor of obstetrics. , gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. “It seems very unfair and discriminatory.”

Recent changes to federal regulations make it easier for providers to give patients abortion pills. The United States Food and Drug Administration has legalized prescribing drugs during telehealth visits and mailing them. Updhyay said it also means clinics, doctors’ offices and health centers no longer have to keep pills in stock but can see their patients and then order the drugs and have them delivered.

“Every public university should offer this – it’s a no-brainer,” she said. “All students should demand this from their health centers now.”

At UMass-Amherst, they asked for it, according to Jeanne M. Ryan, associate director of clinical operations at the university. The health center plans to offer the drug to patients, which in addition to students include staff, faculty members and their families, during the fall semester.

“Our population would love this service,” Ryan said. “It’s part of women’s health care, part of reproductive care.”

She and the providers would prefer not to refer people to other places that offer this service, but they want to be able to continue supporting their patients who need it. Ryan said that for UMass-Amherst, making the drugs available wasn’t that hard — the clinic offers 24-hour health services and there are providers out there who want to offer them. Smaller universities might find it more difficult, she speculated. (The other universities in Massachusetts The Chronicle contacted did not respond in time for publication.)

Not all students are in favor of change. Kate Scott, a biochemistry and molecular biology major who started a Students for Life group at UMass-Amherst, said The Boston Globe that she believes the bill compromises the safety of women.

“We also think it’s outside the scope of what a public university should do,” she told the World. “Especially with taxpayer funding.”

Ryan said UMass-Amherst will educate patients about the drugs in doctors’ offices and on their website. But they wouldn’t make a big deployment.

She noted that anti-abortion people have “spoken out very intensely” and she wants to make sure all of her staff are safe.