Students at public colleges and universities in Massachusetts must now have legal access to medical abortion through their school’s health services or through immediately accessible local resources, thanks to a bill Governor Charlie Baker signed into law on Friday.
The part that impacts students (“A law requiring public universities to provide medical abortions”) is only part of Bill H.5090, “An Act to Expand Protections for Reproductive and affirming gender.
State Senators Lindsay Sabadosa and Jason Lewis, alongside reproductive rights advocates including Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and grassroots organization Reproductive Equity Now, drafted and introduced the bill in January.
Charlie Baker signs bill protecting access to abortion
Reproductive rights advocates push for medical abortions on college campuses
“It has already been introduced and adopted in the state of California,” Sabadosa told Boston.com. “The idea came about because I was at a meeting with UMass Amherst students to discuss health care and ways to expand access and one of the students said, ‘Hey, I ‘ve been following what’s happening in California and I think we should do it here.
Although Sabadosa and Lewis lobbied for medical abortion to be available to college students before the overturning of Roe v. Wade said the “shocking” court ruling added urgency to the passage of the bill, Lewis said.
“It really galvanized the legislature to respond, and the legislature certainly wanted to make sure that we provide protections for our health care providers who provide reproductive care, including abortions,” Lewis told boston.com.
The new law requires public colleges and universities in Massachusetts to submit a plan outlining how they will provide medical abortions — which typically involve the use of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol to safely end a pregnancy within the first nine weeks — or help their students through the process of getting one if they don’t have the opportunity to do so on campus.
These plans are due to be submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) in November 2023, with a deadline for DPH to review these plans by January 2024.
An earlier version of the bill required public colleges and universities to offer medical abortions themselves, but since not all schools already have on-campus health services, that would be unfair. The wording was changed to allow outside resources as well, provided the school has a solid plan in place.
Reproductive Equity Now, which has been involved in the bills and especially the advocacy around it, offers to help schools prepare these plans.
“We are willing and ready to work with [colleges and universities] across the state to ensure they have the resources and tools they need to be able to implement this to the fullest of their abilities,” said Taylor St. Germain, director of communications for Reproductive Equity, at Boston.com.
She described the work schools need to do to come up with a plan.
“Many health centers, which already provide important health care to students on campus, are already equipped to provide this service,” St. Germain said. “Others may need to train staff or buy equipment, but ultimately we’re ready and ready to make sure they’re ready and ready to submit their plan to DPH.”
Sabadosa echoed that sentiment, clarifying that they weren’t trying to turn health centers into clinics, but rather to make “students feel like their health center is a place where they can to seek treatment, whatever it is”.
By keeping students seeking medical abortions on campus or referring to specifically selected local locations, the new law prevents them from accidentally going to crisis pregnancy centers — centers that appear to be care clinics. reproductive health services that in fact provide no abortion care or referral to abortion.
“If students log on and seek services, sometimes you end up in the right place and sometimes you end up in a pregnancy center in crisis,” Sabadosa said. “CPCs tend to spawn specifically around college campuses, so avoiding them is a great byproduct of legislation.”
This law will really make a difference in the lives of college students seeking abortions, based on research by Smith College professor Carrie Baker from May 2021. The study, “Barriers to Abortion Abortion Services Among Massachusetts Public University Students,” found that an estimated 50 to 115 Massachusetts public university students receive medical abortion services each month. These students must travel between 2 and 42 miles to reach their nearest abortion center and the travel time by public transportation to reach their nearest center takes between 18 and 400 minutes. The population-weighted averages were 19 miles each way and 103 minutes each way.
By bringing medical abortion to students, the law helps alleviate these proven difficulties. Unwanted pregnancies and abortion rates are also highest among college students, Lewis said.
“This is a population where access to abortion care is especially important,” Lewis said. “It can be a major crisis for them and it just shouldn’t be the case here in Massachusetts.”
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