I was one of seventy people to get arrested for protesting Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing on September 4th. What would make me, a 21 year-old student, want to have an arrest on my permanent record? The even bigger fear of not having reproductive choice for the rest of my life.
I am concerned that Congress will not vote the right way, even given Kavanaugh’s track record with regressive rulings in the past. Despite the hard work of activists and Senate Democrats, if we don’t get any Republicans to vote against him, Kavanaugh may yet be confirmed. Protecting reproductive freedom cannot rest on Congress’s unreliable shoulders anymore. This is why universities in the District, and across the country, must do their part and provide medication abortion in their health centers.
Washington, D.C. boasts 20 colleges within its borders. In 2016, 43 percent of all people in the District were students. With five crisis pregnancy centers and even fewer clinics that provide abortion, universities in the District should ensure students have access to the health care they need by offering medication abortion in their health centers and covering abortion with student health insurance.
The responsibilities college students are juggling are already tremendous without having to worry about something like an unintended pregnancy. For those that seek an abortion, the cost, time, and emotional toll can be daunting. Making the abortion pill* (used for medical abortions) accessible on D.C. college campuses would alleviate many, if not all, of these challenges.
Just how necessary is access to safe abortion for college students? College aged-women were the highest age demographic obtaining abortions in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available). Women aged 20–24 accounted for the largest proportion of abortions, 34 percent, and had the highest abortion rate, 28 per 1,000 women in this age-group, among all age-groups studied.
Nearly one-third of all aborted pregnancies are terminated by using the abortion pill. Simply put, medication abortion is an incredibly common, safe procedure. Using this medication to induce abortion does not need to be done in a medical office. It is safe enough for use in any place where you feel comfortable, including at home. The pill is so safe that complications from a medical abortion are incredibly rare, with less than one percent of users experiencing abnormal side-effects. Indeed, Iit is safer to have a medically induced abortion than it is to actually give birth.
But the abortion pill can be expensive. Finding a medical provider that not only takes your insurance but is also within a reasonable traveling distance can be a struggle. And for college students, these are barriers that can feel insurmountable.
What does this look like in the life of a student? When Katelyn, in college at the University of California, Berkeley, found out that she was seven weeks pregnant--despite using safe sex methods--she knew abortion was the right choice for her. But despite being one of over 500 students who are estimated to obtain an abortion each month in California, she she soon discovered how difficult actually accessing an abortion would be.
Knowing her campus health center could not offer her the pills necessary to induce, she went to the emergency room and was referred to a Planned Parenthood facility, only to discover that her university insurance would not cover the procedure. By the time she was able to secure coverage by the state, too much time had passed for Katelyn to have a medication abortion. She was ultimately able to terminate her pregnancy by paying out of pocket, but it cost her over $200 dollars more than it would have if she hadn’t been delayed. For obtaining a medication abortion without incurring high costs, time is of the essence.
California is one of the most pro-choice states in the country, and still failed this college student. But California lawmakers are hoping to do something unique: require health centers on their college campuses to provide access to medication abortion pills for students.
This bill would set a huge precedent. Between 2008 and 2014, there was a seven percent decrease nationwide in the number of abortion clinics. Five states currently have only one clinic. Finding an off-campus facility is not always feasible for a busy student, both in terms of the amount of travel time it would take to reach one and the amount of money it would cost to get there.
Additionally, it’s imperative that universities are contracting with health insurance providers that cover abortion. Generally, colleges buy these plans from companies and then sell the plans to their student bodies as a part of their tuition. The Affordable Care Act requires these plans to cover certain essential health benefits such as emergency care and hospitalization, mental health and substance abuse services, prescription drugs, preventative services, labs, disease management, and contraceptives for free. With insurance that covers these necessities, it is not unreasonable to also cover the costs of medication abortion under school plans
On-campus abortion access would likely lead to a decrease in the cost of the procedure, since students usually have the option to use their campus insurance or their own insurance in their health centers. This can drastically reduce the cost of the pills, which can range anywhere from $300-$800.
Perhaps most importantly, supplying the medication necessary for a medical abortion on college campuses could drastically reduce the stigma around abortion. Abortion is an incredibly safe and incredibly common procedure, with nearly one in four women and femmes having an abortion in their lifetime. Requiring them to jump through burdensome hoops to obtain this form of healthcare further enforces the false belief that abortion isn’t normal and that people aren’t having them.
Supplying this medication on college campuses provides access to abortion for students who want to exercise their right to have one. It’s time for D.C. campuses to hop on board.
For more info about abortion and abortion rates in the United States, check out Guttmacher.
To donate to local D.C. people struggling to afford abortion costs, donate to the D.C. Abortion Fund.
To find an abortion provider, call the National Abortion Federation at 1-877-257-0012.
To learn more about self-managed abortion care, check out ReproAction.
Steph is a Women's Studies major at American University in D.C., a city she loves. Steph can be found reading next to her cat Goose, writing about feminism and Judaism, or protesting around the city for basic human rights. Follow her on Twitter at @stephreflects, Instagram @stephrose1620, or check out her website at stephblack.blog.