Massachusetts, Like California, Will Require Medication Abortion Access on College Campuses
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- Massachusetts lawmakers recently passed a bill requiring all UMass campuses to offer medication abortion services.
- The legislation was inspired by a California bill that will go into effect in January.
- Students are rallying across the country to get their states to pass similar regulations.
This January, California will become the first state in the country to require its public universities to provide medication abortion care at campus health clinics. But even as the state's institutions prepare to institute the new law, its impact is already reverberating across the country.
California Senate Bill 24 orders student health clinics on California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) campuses to offer abortion by medication at their campus health centers, through telehealth services, or by providers associated with a contracted agency.
Gov. Gavin Newsome signed the bill into law in October 2019, some 32 months before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion no longer exists.
The ruling left blue states scrambling to enshrine abortion rights in their state laws, and some, starting with Massachusets, are turning to California's SB 24 as a guide for providing college students with full health care services.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed Bill H.5090 last July, making the state the second in the nation to ensure that students at its public colleges have access to medication abortion.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, a Democrat from Massachusetts' 1st Hampshire District. She told BestColleges that California's SB 24 helped drive Massachusetts' post-Roe push to provide medication abortion access for its college students.
"We really were inspired by the legislation in California, but it was brought to my attention by a group of students at UMass Amherst," Sabadosa said. "We were talking about the future of Massachusetts and things that we could do, and this [California] bill was brought up as something the students were really interested in."
Massachusetts Medication Abortion Law Includes Community Colleges
Similar to California's SB 24, Massachusetts' bill requires that campuses in the University of Massachusetts (UMass) system provide medication abortion on campus, either through on-campus health clinics or outside resources.
But Massachusetts' bill goes further to also include public community colleges in the mandate.
Furthermore, the Massachusetts bill calls for state universities and community colleges to create an "abortion readiness plan" to educate and inform students about their reproductive health options. Those plans must be submitted to the Department of Public Health by Nov. 30, 2023.
The priority of Massachusetts' legislation, Sabadosa said, is to provide abortion access and information for all of the state's students, including community college students.
"Some of our state systems schools don't have health centers on campus, our community colleges are really small, and yet we still want them to be places where students can go to the school to get the information they might need," she said.
In a study published in April 2022 by researchers at Smith College and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst estimated that between 600 to 1,380 Massachusetts public university students access medication abortion services each year, with an average cost of $680 and an average wait time of eight days.
Sabadosa said she also hopes that the legislation frees students to more openly discuss abortion care in order to decrease the stigmatism that still surrounds it.
"I think some people think, 'Oh, wow, it's really radical because you're trying to get an abortion on a college campus,'" she said. "But it's really not. We're trying to make sure that students can access full spectrum health care on campus, which is not a radical idea at all."
Politicians, Students Mobilize For Abortion Access
Sabadosa initially proposed legislation requiring access to medication abortion on Massachusetts' public college campuses last January. She always thought the bill would pass, she said, but when Roe v. Wade was overturned, the urgency with which many of her colleagues viewed the issue changed — fast.
"I think a lot [legislators] who maybe weren't opposed [to the bill] but weren't full-throated supporters, turned around and were like, 'We really do have to do something. This is really important.'"
The Supreme Court ruling also activated student activists, including Advocates for Youth, a sex education nonprofit that rallied student support across Massachusetts for the bill, Sabadosa said.
"We had a lot of student advocates and people who were really pushing on their campuses to figure out how [Massachusetts' medication abortion law] could happen and to make sure that it did," she said.
As other blue states work to protect abortion care, Sabadosa said that legislation such as California's SB24 and Massachusetts Bill H.5090 could be important starting points.
"I really do hope that we see states like Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, and Oregon move in this direction," she said. "[The law] is really a way to make sure people have access [to abortion care], and I just don't think we can underestimate how important that is right now."