A California bill that would require all public university health centers to stock abortion medication has drawn criticism for the threats it could pose to women’s health and conscience rights.
“This push to reconfigure the life-saving, health affirming purpose of school health centers into abortion vendors goes against the mission of the medical centers and exposes women and the schools to great risk,” said Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins in a press release.
California Senate bill 320 would require every public university student health center in the state to offer medical abortions by the start of 2022.
Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills. The first pill, Mifepristone (RU-486), is taken in a clinical setting. It blocks the progesterone hormone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the fetus. The second pill, misoprostol, is given to the woman to be taken at home within 48 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the fetus.
Students for Life of America has raised numerous objections to the legislation, including a lack of resources to properly protect women’s health, unclear funding sources, and religious freedom concerns.
Camille Rodriguez, West Coast regional coordinator for Students for Life, testified against Senate Bill 320 in a hearing before the California Assembly on Higher Education on Tuesday. She was joined by California students, professors and community members, along with Bishop Jaime Soto of the Sacramento Diocese.
Rodriguez represented 97 student groups in opposition to the bill. Since January, she said, 4,443 students from public California campuses have signed a petition in protest of Senate Bill 320. Despite the signers’ varying “personal ideologies,” she said, they all have concerns about the bill.
“There are so many pro-choice students who have signed our petition because they do not see the necessity in this,” Rodriguez told CNA.
In her testimony, several witnesses highlighted university health centers’ lack of resources to properly follow up after a woman takes mifepristone.
The FDA has reported 4,000 “serious adverse events” as a result of the drug, said Marylee Shrider, executive director of Right to Life Kern County, who also testified at the Tuesday hearing. According to the FDA, 22 women have died from taking the abortion drug as of December 2017.
The side effects of mifepristone, Shrider said, have been compared to those of Tylenol or Viagra, when they can in fact be much worse, inducing severe hemorrhaging.
The resources to provide holistic care for women who opt to take mifepristone are missing, Rodriguez said. For example, the FDA says that healthcare providers who prescribe the abortion drug “must have the ability to date pregnancies accurately and to diagnose ectopic pregnancies.” This would require ultrasound equipment, which is expensive, and not present on all campus health centers.
Questions have also arisen surrounding funding for the initiative. The bill lays out private funding sources for initial implementation costs, but “it’s unclear where funding will come from once the initial funds are used,” said Rodriguez.
She questioned whether the facilities could continue to operate “without… digging into our taxpayer funding.”
University officials are also concerned about the steep price of maintaining the resources necessary for abortions in their health centers, Rodriguez said. Her testimony mentioned her conversations with university presidents who were quick to support the availability of abortion, but referred to Senate Bill 320 as “poor legislation.”
University representatives were most clear in their opposition “when they were being asked about the specifics of funding” during the hearing, she said. “The CSU system made it very clear that they are not prepared to take on additional funding for this whatsoever.”
Rodriguez also raised concerns that the bill is an “absolute infringement” on the religious freedom and conscience rights of health center workers.
She said lawmakers were dismissive of concerns that workers would be required to distribute the abortion pills even if they held strong moral objections to doing so.
When asked about the issue, Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), who sponsored the bill, responded by saying, “Well, they can find work elsewhere,” Rodriguez said.
Though the bill passed through the assembly with a 7-3 vote and can now move forward in the legislative process, Rodriguez said she still feels optimistic that the measure will be defeated.
The bill was referred to the appropriations committee, “which will focus directly on funding. We are encouraged because the bill is very unclear about how funding will happen,” she said.