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California colleges provide abortion pills but many fail to make students aware

California legislators in 2019 passed the law that requires all the state's 33 public university campuses to provide abortion pills. It took effect in January 2023, but LAist found that basic information for students to obtain the medication is often nonexistent.
Jackie Fortiér/LAist
California legislators in 2019 passed the law that requires all the state's 33 public university campuses to provide abortion pills. It took effect in January 2023, but LAist found that basic information for students to obtain the medication is often nonexistent.

When Deanna Gomez found out she was pregnant in September 2023, she felt the timing couldn't have been worse.

The college senior at California State University-San Bernardino worked 60 hours a week at two jobs. She used birth control. Motherhood was not in the plan. Not yet.

"I grew up poor. And I don't want that for my children, like, ever," she said.

She wanted a medication abortion. It's a two-step process: one drug taken to inhibit the pregnancy, and another a day later to induce cramping and bleeding and empty the uterus. Gomez didn't bother going to the university health clinic, thinking it was only for basic health needs.

She ended up driving more than 300 miles and paying hundreds of dollars in medical and travel expenses to obtain a medication abortion. She missed a month of classes, which put her graduation date in jeopardy. She had no idea she was entitled to a free medication abortion right on campus.

An LAist investigation has found that one year after California became the first state to require its public universities to provide abortion pills to students, basic information on where or how students can obtain the medication is lacking and, often, nonexistent.

"I was really upset when I found out," Gomez told LAist. "I had to really push myself to make that money happen."

LAist initially found that 11 of 23 CSU campus clinics did not have any information about medication abortion on their clinic websites, nor did they list it as a service offered. Of the University of California's 10 campuses, eight mentioned medication abortion on their clinic websites. (Five CSU campuses and one UC campus added information after LAist published a version of this article.)

Through conversations with students and faculty at multiple campuses, LAist found there was little information for students to obtain the pills.

"If I had known that, I would have taken advantage of it," Gomez said. "I spent a lot of time driving around after work, switching schedules, putting my homework on the back burner."

Deanna Gomez became pregnant during her senior year at California State University-San Bernardino and had no idea she was entitled to a free medication abortion on campus.
/ Jackie Fortiér/LAist
/
Jackie Fortiér/LAist
Deanna Gomez became pregnant during her senior year at California State University-San Bernardino and had no idea she was entitled to a free medication abortion on campus.

California legislators in 2019 passed the law that requires all the state's 33 public university campuses to provide abortion pills. It took effect in January 2023.

"We wanted to make sure that students, female students, had access to this right," said Connie Leyva, the former Pomona-area state senator who authored the bill.

The legislature created a $10.3 million fund of privately raised money to help universities implement the new law. Each campus received $200,000 in one-time funding to pay for the medication and cover costs such as facility upgrades, equipment, training, telehealth services, and security upgrades.

The funding did not include any requirement that campus clinics inform students the medication was available to them.

Leyva said she doesn't recall any conversations about "including something on advertising that you could get a medicated abortion on campus." She said she's disappointed in the law's implementation, but not surprised.

"Everything starts at the top. And if the president or chancellor of the university knows they have to offer it, but if they don't agree that women should have access to abortion services, then they might just think, 'We'll leave it off, we don't have to worry about it,'" Leyva said.

Spokesperson Ryan King said UC President Michael Drake was not available to comment.

"The student communities at each UC campus are unique," Heather Harper, a spokesperson for UC Health in Drake's office, wrote in an email. "As a result, communication to students at each location takes different forms and may include website content, flyers, emails, person-to-person conversations or other methods."

The office of CSU Chancellor Mildred García did not reply to a request for comment.

At Gomez's San Bernardino campus, abortion as an option was mentioned only in one place: in small letters on a poster inside exam rooms at the health center.

A student wouldn't see that until they were already waiting for a doctor or nurse.

"We need to work harder if there is a student who needed the service and wasn't aware that they could access it through us and not have to pay for it," said Beth Jaworski, executive director of health, counseling, and wellness at CSU-San Bernardino. "But it's one student. We haven't been providing the service very long. It's been just about a year now."

Medication abortion has since been added to the list of services on the clinic's website.

Ray Murillo, California State University's interim assistant vice chancellor of student affairs, said he and other administrative staffers are developing guidance so campuses share the same information "to help in our training efforts for the frontline staff and providers when they're being asked questions about the service and what we provide."

A card given to students at California State University-San Bernardino's Student Health Center does not list medication abortion as a service even though the center does provide it.
/ Jackie Fortiér/LAist
/
Jackie Fortiér/LAist
A card given to students at California State University-San Bernardino's Student Health Center does not list medication abortion as a service even though the center does provide it.

Gomez wants more done, including flyers, emails, and social media posts directed at both faculty and students.

"You want to market the football games, you want to market the volleyball games. Why is that important, and abortions are not?" she said.

Gomez did graduate in December 2023, becoming the first person in her family to earn a bachelor's degree. But she's angry at her alma mater for keeping the abortion pills a secret.

This article is from a partnership that includes LAist, NPR and KFF Health News, a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues.

Copyright 2024 LAist 89.3

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Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Jackie Fortier
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