New abortion bill could require public universities to provide on-campus abortion services

Students at University of Massachusetts Boston, one of many public universities to be affected by the new abortion bill if passed. Photo by Keminni Amanor/BU News Service

By Keminni Amanor
BU News Service

BOSTON — A new bill requiring public universities in Massachusetts to provide on-campus medication abortion could take effect January 2020, if approved by state legislators.

More than 100 public universities in Massachusetts will be affected by bill H3841, which will make it possible for students to receive pills in order to end a pregnancy at any campus health center.

The bill defines medication abortion as any procedure that is not a surgical procedure and utilizes a prescription drug or medication technique to induce an abortion. 

“It’s easier for students to be able to access care if they can go on campus, they can get follow up therapy more easily and it just is a huge burden off a time that can already be stressful,” said Northampton representative Lindsay Sabadosa, the bill’s sponsor.

According to the Planned Parenthood Association, these pills can be given only if the woman is less than 10 weeks pregnant.

Eligible university health centers are required to provide counseling and aftercare services for students who want to terminate pregnancies at the facilities, the bill’s texts claims.

Sabadosa said the bill is based on a similar one which recently passed in California, except for a few variations in funding choices.

“The bill is slightly different than the California legislation in that it does create a trust that would be used to fund the cost of the medication on campuses. It could certainly become a line item in the budget,” she said. 

According to the bill, the trust, a Public University Health Center Sexual and Reproductive Health Preparation Fund will be created with money approved by the legislature, though it is unclear where this money will come from yet.

In the California version of the bill, government would seek funding from private donors to ready the institutions, provide the pills and aftercare services for students. 

H3841 has a few more steps before it lands on the governor’s desk. On Sept. 10 the Joint Committee on Public Health discussed the bill, though Sabadosa said the conversation cannot yet be made public.

The bill proposes up to $2.4 million to cover day-to-day costs associated with implementation. The bill also states that once eligible, public universities may receive two installments of $200,000 to cover costs for facility improvement and management. 

The bill cautions public universities against taking on new expenses to be ready for this new treatment. 

“The legislation, however, only impacts public universities that already have health services on campus where they perform OB-GYN appointments, so it does not require universities to make upfront capital investment. It’s really the cost of the medication,” Sabadosa explained

Director of Community Engagement at Massachusetts Citizens for Life, a pro-life group, C. J. Williams, said the bill is an unnecessary expansion of access to abortion at the detriment of safety. 

“There’s nothing dangerous about a bus ride, there’s also the fact that in Massachusetts, many, many health facilities are very nearby. I don’t know one campus that doesn’t have one that would provide a chemical abortion within five miles,” she said

Williams also expressed frustration about how the bill limits the choices young people have when they are pregnant to just termination.

“If you’re just putting an abortion facility in the middle of their college campus, our daughters are not getting the message that they have a choice. You want to give them options, not abortion,” Williams added. 

According to the Lozier Institute, there were 18,256 abortions in Massachusetts last year. Of these, 7,257 were medication abortions. The institute also indicates that more than half of total abortions were performed on women in their twenties and Planned Parenthood performed nearly 57%. 

Board chairman at Massachusetts Citizens for Life, J. David Franks said it is a “dangerous bill” for young women.

“Facilitating this pop-a-pill mentality as if one can deal with the grave and long-reaching consequences of our reproductive biology, as if one can pop a pill or two and then have no problems. It’s just magical thinking,” Franks said.

At the University of Massachusetts Boston, one of many public universities likely to be affected by this bill if passed, more than 16,000 students already receive sexual and reproductive health services, including free condoms, contraceptives, emergency contraceptives and on-campus STI testing from the university’s health center. 

Throughout the nation, funding for abortion comes from individual state funds by women enrolled unto Medicaid. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, of the more than 14 million women on Medicaid, 6.5 million reside in states which will fund abortion, while almost eight million women live in states where coverage for abortion is restricted.

In Massachusetts, people who want to terminate a pregnancy currently rely on private health plans or make out-of-pocket payments.

H3841 is not explicit on whether or not students will pay for the service. However, it emphasizes the importance of each public university raising funds to sustain its implementation. 

The bill remains in hearings in the Joint Committee on Public Health until further notice.

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