California Public Universities Must Now Offer Medication Abortions. Here’s How the Policy Is Being Implemented.

Starting Jan. 1, all University of California and California State University campuses are required to provide access to medication abortions through student health services.
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  • California passed a bill in 2019 requiring all UC and CSU campuses to offer access to medication abortion services by Jan. 1, 2023.
  • All 33 public university campuses across California now offer medication abortion care for students.
  • Advocacy group Essential Access Health led the two-year implementation of medication abortion care across schools in the UC and CSU systems

California's public colleges and universities started the new year by implementing groundbreaking legislation that increases access to abortion care for hundreds of thousands of students.

Starting Jan. 1, Senate Bill 24 requires public institutions in the state to provide access to medication abortions at campus health centers, through telehealth services, or by providers associated with a contracted agency.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2019, some 32 months before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, provided one-time funding for campuses to prepare to offer medication abortions — $200,000 per campus in the UC and CSU systems — to cover costs such as equipment, facility and security upgrades, telehealth services, and staff training.

Essential Access Health (EAH), a reproductive health advocacy group, led the two-year implementation of medication abortion care across all 33 schools in the UC and CSU systems through its Medication Abortion Access Program.

According to Annie Sumberg, senior director of Medication Abortion Access for EAH, implementation training included technical assistance at the system level and individualized support for each health center to address individualized needs.

"In a system as big as the CSU and UC systems, each school functions independently, and under a unified administration. So while some aspects of implementation can be standardized, it was critical to work closely with each student health center to support their unique operational, staffing, equipment, billing, and training needs," Sumberg told BestColleges.

Sumberg said that readiness assessments were conducted at each school in order to "meet each health center exactly where they were."

"Some schools already outsourced their medical care with private contractors who needed to be trained in medication abortion, while others were fully staffed and wanted to learn to provide medication abortion in person as well as through telehealth," she explained.

Here's a look at how California's two public university systems have implemented the new abortion-care mandate.

California State University

California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) is just one of the 23 universities in the CSU system that previously did not offer access to medication abortions on campus.

Chi-Chung Keung, director of news media services for CSUF, said all clinical staff at CSUF Health Services participated in systemwide training to implement care for students with a positive pregnancy test, including the administration of medication abortion pills.

"Medical providers in Health Services are trained and ready to provide care for students with a positive pregnancy test, including pregnancy options counseling, medication abortion (MAB), referral for specialty care, and/or counseling services," Keung said in a statement to BestColleges.

If a student is concerned they are pregnant, they can get a free pregnancy test through the Student Wellness Center, according to Keung. If the test comes back positive, the student can opt for pregnancy options like counseling, which includes the possibility of medication abortion.

"If the student wants to pursue MAB, an appointment is scheduled with a medical provider and the medication is dispensed," Keung said.

Although access to medication abortion should be similar for CSU students across the system, Hazel Kelly, public affairs manager in the CSU Chancellor's Office, says specifics may vary from campus to campus based on their student health center's general operations.

"Depending on the health center, students may be able to pick up the prescription at their health center, through a certified pharmacy, or have them mailed to their home. In some cases, an ultrasound or lab tests may be conducted," she said.

For students in the CSU system, appointment costs will be covered by the student health fee, which is included with tuition, according to Kelly. The medication itself will be billed to students at a cost of approximately $50.

State funding also includes support for patients if they have complications from the medication.

According to Kelly, patients who need additional medical support will be referred to medical facilities. Those who undergo treatment on campus will also be offered resources for 24-hour support and follow-up appointments to check for physical and emotional well-being.

Additionally, if a student is more than 10 weeks pregnant, health center staff will refer them to an outside location for a surgical abortion.

The University of California

Students who seek medication abortions at schools in the University of California system will also have to go through a similar process.

UC Riverside has been offering the medication since October, according to John Warren, director of news and content for UC Riverside.

Warren said that students who suspect they are pregnant can make an appointment or walk into the student health center to meet with a nurse. After consultation and "appropriate evaluation," patients who want to pursue medication abortion will have the medication mailed to them, according to the school's student health services website.

Medication abortions at UC schools will cost $550 for students who want to self-pay. However, the student health insurance plan (SHIP) will cover the cost, subject to deductibles and coinsurance, Warren says.

UC San Diego started offering medication abortion services on Oct. 3, in preparation for the Jan. 1 deadline, according to Erika Johnson, assistant director of university communications.

"Prior to the implementation of the legislation, students seeking medication abortion services would have to access care off campus through UC San Diego Health," Johnson said in an email to BestColleges. "Under the current law, students can now make an appointment at UC San Diego Student Health Services for counseling and medication abortion services at one location."

Laisha Felix is a student at UC San Diego and president of its Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA) chapter. In December, the group posted on social media that medication abortions may be available in the new year, unaware that the school had already started to provide medication abortion care.

"There is very little information as of right now about [medication abortions on campus]. We're all kind of just finding things out as they're released," Felix said in an interview with BestColleges. "We work directly with Planned Parenthood, so we have meetings sometimes with our coordinator, and she was the one that told us that the medication was gonna be put on some of the campuses."

Felix says access to abortion on campus will be a game-changer, considering the closest Planned Parenthood to campus is roughly a 15-minute drive away and not walkable.

"A lot of students don't have access to Planned Parenthood because they might not have a car or reliable transportation or support," she explained. "So having something like a little abortion clinic or resources like that would be really important."

Currently, the UC San Diego website does include information about medication abortion under "Pregnancy Options" on the school's Reproductive Health Services webpage.

As for student awareness, Felix suggested that the medication abortion option be more prominently displayed on student health platforms and campus materials. She also said student groups like PPGA will be working to get the word out to fellow students about the new change.

"I think they could do a better job of advertising and a better job at making it easy to access these things," Felix said. "But, with this new year and having access to abortion, I think that not only UCSD, but the UC system hopefully, I think that they're definitely [taking] the right steps to making abortion a less taboo subject."