Medication Abortion Offered on Campus: A Legitimate Need?

Whether you choose to call it “pro-abortion” or “pro-choice,” the view about how available abortion should be is one of controversy, debate, and wavering support across the country.

Despite the current presidential administration’s blatant opposition to allowing legal abortion, a group of UC Berkeley students from Students United for Reproductive Justice, or SURJ, are working to make medication abortion available at all California public universities. After meeting with undergraduate student and co-director of SURJ, Marandah Rain Field-Elliot, it seems that on-campus medication abortion is not only necessary, but also possible.

Medication abortion is a two-pill procedure that terminates a pregnancy up to the first trimester. These pills are much simpler and less invasive than surgical abortion, and, as Field-Elliot puts it, “safer than Viagra.”

Additionally, Field-Elliot mentions how convenient the service would be. Both pills are taken in the patient room, which would eliminate the need for students to travel to external clinics.

In addition to its safety and convenience, Berkeley’s Tang Center already has the staff and resources to offer ultrasounds and pregnancy testing. With 519 students at the University of California and California State University systems seeking abortions every month, this is a health issue that affects many people and therefore needs to be addressed.

So, if it’s such a simple, high-demand service for students, then why doesn’t UC Berkeley’s Tang Center offer it to students?

Its initial response was cost. The Tang Center requested $120,000 once per year for two years, claiming that offering the medication abortion would require an additional full-time security guard and a public relations employee. When Field-Elliot and the SURJ students secured the funding to support that cost request, the Tang Center countered with a request for $5 million, attributing the increased expenses to greater security needs after President Trump’s election.

Ultimately, Field-Elliot shares that they have the funding to support their efforts. Yet, she believes UC Berkeley’s lack of cooperation comes down to political concerns, as they may deal with pushback as the first university in the country to offer on-campus abortion.

Field-Elliot and the other SURJ students’ efforts are not only getting financial support but also political support at the California Senate level. California State Senator Connie Leyva introduced SB 320, which would guarantee that students have access to medication abortion in their first 10 weeks of pregnancy. The bill will be presented to the State Assembly this summer and, according to recent national polls, 66% of Californians currently support it.

The process has not been smooth. “It’s like a balancing act,” says Field-Elliot. “For the legislators, we want them to know that this is a legacy-making bill. This can catalyze one of the biggest gains in abortion access that we’ve seen in the past 20 years … but for schools, we want them to know that it’s not actually that big of a deal. If we’re just implementing this into primary care and if we’re implementing it into 30 campuses at the same time, they will likely not see a big catastrophic response.”

Kaitlyn Trevino, a UC Berkeley undergraduate student, exemplifies the critical need for this abortion service on campuses, as opposed to the current method of referring students to outside clinics. On top of dealing with the emotional instability of her unexpected pregnancy, Trevino also struggled to navigate being a full-time student.

Trevino endured overnight, costly stays in an emergency room, missed two internship shifts, resorted to having personal conversations with her employer, and ultimately dealt with navigating public transportation to an off-campus clinic. These obstacles and gatekeeping techniques challenge students’ access to medication abortion, which need to be utilized in a timely manner to be effective.

The stress of inaccessible abortion on top of the heap of demands that comes with being a university student is a clear public health issue. With students facing pressure to succeed academically and professionally, to balance their finances, and to take care of their own personal lives, the university should at least support students’ sexual health needs. Making pills accessible from the comfort and convenience of the school’s health center is a feasible way campus administration can support the health and well-being of its students.