As the Supreme Court is poised to jeopardize abortion protections nationwide, Massachusetts lawmakers and activists say a bill pending in Beacon Hill that could bolster health care Reproduction on public college campuses takes on added urgency as the end of the legislative session nears.
Academic health centers would be required to stock and provide medical abortions under bills sponsored by State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa and State Senator Jason Lewis.
But for now, college students struggling with pregnancy and limited transportation options could spend hours taking a public bus to reach the nearest abortion service provider elsewhere in Massachusetts — all to get the two medicated abortion pills that can be taken up to 10 weeks pregnant. . Often, students visit unfamiliar cities and providers, dozens of miles from their trusted campus healthcare providers.
Lawmakers believe the drug, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, can easily be incorporated into an academic health center’s portfolio of services in an effort to preserve dignity, access and reproductive justice.
“A lot of them are young women who may be low-income, college students of color, so they already face significant economic and social challenges,” Lewis told MassLive. “That’s another hurdle facing these individuals who shouldn’t have to be there…Given the hit news from (Monday) and the tragic direction we seem to be heading in this country, the onus is even greater on States like Massachusetts continue to find additional ways to protect and expand access to reproductive health care.
The Supreme Court remains set to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Politico reported Monday night based on a leaked draft majority opinion from Judge Samuel Alito.
Abortion protections are codified in Massachusetts state law, Beacon Hill lawmakers proudly said this week as they rallied outside the State House on Tuesday morning and pledged to defend reproductive care. for all Americans.
While Speaker of the House Ron Mariano and Speaker of the Senate Karen Spilka have cited their chambers’ budgets as a key mechanism for maintaining access to abortion in the Commonwealth, Sabadosa said she also sees a new hope for the legislature to advance his and Lewis’s proposals.
“I think it’s in a good place,” Sabadosa told MassLive. “It is still at the Public Health (Joint) Committee, but we are having very productive discussions on this subject. We therefore hope that things will move forward. »
The legislation provides grants of at least $200,000 to academic health centers to offset ancillary costs associated with medical abortion, including staff training and equipment purchases. But the drug itself would be covered by college health insurance plans, Sabadosa said.
Under the status quo, a student at Westfield State University must travel 34 miles to access a medical abortion, which translates to 3.5 hours on public transit, according to a study by Carrie Baker, professor of human rights studies. women and gender at Smith College.
At the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, it will take 13 hours to travel 84 miles by public transit, Baker found. And although the University of Massachusetts at Amherst plans to offer medical abortion this fall, students currently spend 4.5 hours on public transportation, traveling 50 miles to reach a provider.
Sabadosa simulated a grueling trip in the fall, with lawmakers and student activists testing other avenues to advocate for the legislation.
“It’s a real burden on Massachusetts students,” Baker said, framing the bill as a principle of economic, racial and gender justice.
Women already in emotional turmoil to learn they’re pregnant then have to travel a potentially day-long trip to seek care, Baker said – while missing classes, work and other commitments from their schedules. busy students. Medical abortion is safer than Tylenol and “very effective,” she said.
“If we don’t pass this bill, students will have to continue to travel long distances to get basic medical care,” Baker said. “If they don’t have access to healthcare, they drop out of school. We want students to complete their education – we want them to thrive and get good jobs.
Reproductive Equity Now, keen to ensure passage of the bill, last month launched a $50,000 digital ad campaign — and an accompanying petition — to galvanize awareness. Just over 600 people, including nearly 500 Massachusetts residents, have so far signed the petition, which will be delivered to state lawmakers in late May, spokeswoman Taylor St. Germain said.
Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of Reproductive Equity Now, called it unacceptable that UMass Boston students without a car have to travel six hours round trip to the nearest clinic.
“We really wanted to educate the public here in Massachusetts, and then also think about how to remove those barriers and make it clear that abortion is health care, and should be streamlined in part of any health center. academic (or scholar),,” Hart Holder said of his organization’s ad campaign. “It’s a pretty easy thing for students to do.”
So far, the bill has received little pushback, Hart Holder said.
Hart Holder’s advocacy prompted her to contemplate her own undergraduate years at Mount Holyoke College — and how she would have navigated a desert of access to abortion care.
“I didn’t have a car. How on earth would I have figured out how to get to Springfield? Hart Holder ponders the script. “The biggest issue we’ve heard is the education element, like, ‘I want abortion care – this is the right option for me. It’s not in my health center, and now I don’t know where to turn and I go to them for everything else.