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Health center would offer abortion pills under new bill

Morgan Park, Editor-in-Chief

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A new bill introduced to the state senate in March (SB 320) would require UC’s, CSU’s, and community colleges with health centers to offer abortion pills to students seeking them. The bill, named the “College Student Right to Access Act,” was introduced on March 17 by Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D) with the intent to “benefit college students who may become pregnant and seek to terminate their pregnancy within the first ten weeks,” read the press release following the bill’s announcement.

“It is important that college students have access to safe and reliable reproductive health care on campus, including early pregnancy termination. If a UC, CSU or community college already has a student health center, it makes sense that they provide this health care service within that facility so that students do not have to travel many miles away from their work and school commitments in order to receive care,” Sen. Leyva said in the release.

Bakersfield College would be one of the schools directed to carry abortion pills in the Student Health and Wellness center under SB 320 in its current form. BC’s health center focuses on individual over the-counter medical care in the way one might expect to get at an urgent care center or department store convenience clinics, as well as mental health counseling for students.

“We’re an important student support service,” said Ray Purcell, Health and Wellness Center director. SB 320 is still in early stages, needing approval from health and education committees before voting on the Senate floor. Purcell hasn’t been able to study the bill thoroughly, partly because he awaits the amended version that can result from committee changes. Though, rather than enforcing the carrying of abortion pills, Purcell would rather approach the subject differently.

“What I would rather do is survey the student body, do focus groups, and work with student government. This is a student-driven service. If students go to their representatives and say ‘they don’t do this, they’re not doing that,’ then we’re going to work with student government,” Purcell said. As far as contraceptives offered at the BC wellness center currently, the options are fairly limited.

“We don’t dispense any [contraceptives] other than condoms,” Purcell said. “How we’re currently addressing [contraceptives] is that I do counseling and the campus nurse does counseling. So, a student will come in and say ‘I want to talk to someone about birth control,’ then we’re going to sit down and over the course of an hour to 45 minutes really give them a good sense of what’s available, how effective it is, answer questions about sexual health, etc.,” Purcell said.

If the student decides they do want birth control after counseling, Purcell can then prescribe them birth control pills and advise the use of morningafter pills or an intrauterine device (IUD). Though, Purcell can’t currently prescribe abortion pills the same way he can contraceptives. Offering abortion pills on-hand, which replace the need for a surgical abortion through a clinic, is new territory for the majority of college campuses, including BC.

“We’re not talking ethics, we’re not talking theology, we’re just talking methods in medicine. To be considerate of the sensibility wishes of the campus, before having to embark in a medical abortion, we have to gauge [the subject] in a very careful way, and we won’t know how to approach it until the appropriate time comes.”

Purcell would rather the students express the need for abortion services on campus before it is required to carry them, but he will adhere to the bill if it passes in its current form.

“If it’s a ‘you shalt no matter what’ situation, then it’s a different game. Then we have to put mechanisms in place, including the medical protocol to [offer the pills],” Purcell said. “It’s a method that has been in use for decades, so it’s not an unknown quantity.”

The bill calls for the abortion pills to be paid for in the same way that the college’s health center is paid for, be it state taxes or otherwise. In the case of BC, the Wellness Center is funded completely by a $13 student health fee that most students pay every semester. In summation, Purcell wanted to make a few things clear regarding health and success for students.

“Unintended pregnancies strongly negatively impact success. What’s good is that in correlation with reproductive health services being covered under the Affordable Care Act, the incidence of teen pregnancy has gone down, the incidence of unwanted pregnancies has gone down, and the incidence of surgical abortions have decreased. Birth control options have become more affordable, and more accessible,” he said.

“It’s important to me that students have accurate, reliable information and can become good consumers of healthcare by and large and the reproductive options, specifically. We want to provide that in a confidential, safe, comfortable environment.”

Sergio Reyes, communications director for Sen. Leyva, confirmed that SB 320 is slated to be considered on April 19 by the Senate Health Committee. If it passes there, it will enter the Senate Education Committee for consideration. “At this time, our office does not anticipate SB 320 to be significantly altered prior to the Senate Health Committee vote, though that may change if the need arises,” said Reyes.

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Health center would offer abortion pills under new bill