OPINION: Lack of Access To Reproductive Services Hinders Students’ Quality Of Life


Cartoon depiction of a vending machine with plan b
Graphic by Nina Potischman

Despite four out of the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges being ranked in the top 16 liberal arts colleges of 2017, access to emergency contraception and medical abortion pills — an essential service for many 5C students — is extremely limited.

Pomona College is the only member of the 5Cs to have emergency contraceptive services constantly accessible on its campus. According to an email from Ellie Ash-Balà, Pomona’s Associate Dean of Campus Life and Director of the Smith Campus Center, the wellness vending machine in Walker Hall was implemented in 2014.

The machine stocks the Plan B — an emergency contraceptive pill used after unintentional unprotected sex or a birth control malfunction — tampons, condoms, toiletries, cough drops, pregnancy tests, and other items that aid in sexual health and disease prevention. The Smith Campus Center is in charge of making sure that the machine is fully stocked, but Pomona does not pay for product costs. The machine’s funding comes from people buying products.

The machine is closer than the pharmacy, where Plan B costs more than twice as much. Plan B costs $20 from the machine, but up to $50 from the pharmacy, which saves students money and the awkward, traumatic experience of having to publicly tell a stranger that you need emergency contraception.

This wellness machine is accessible to 5C students 24 hours a day, but its location in a Pomona dorm is less than ideal for Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, and Scripps College students. This machine is also not always fully stocked and is sometimes broken, which could have a huge impact on students when they need the machine the most. Having more wellness machines on campus would be an asset to 5C students’ quality of life.

At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, Scripps Associated Students sent out a survey about whether or not to implement a wellness machine of their own in the Student Union, a place that has 24-hour swipe access for Scripps students. Kelly Peng SC ’18, current SAS president, wrote in an email to TSL explaining that out of the 438 students who responded to the survey, 98.6 percent of responses supported implementing a machine. However, this machine has yet to be implemented because of factors including cost and administrative approval.

5C students deserve increased access to Plan B, but we also deserve increased availability of medical abortion pills on campus, instead of needing to drive to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Upland.

Medical abortions are a combination of two medicines called mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone is the first pill, taken at the clinic or health center, that blocks the progesterone hormone needed to help pregnancies grow. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 6-48 hours after mifepristone, and can cause severe cramping and heavy vaginal bleeding due to the emptying of the uterus. The pill can be administered up to 70 days after a person’s last menstrual period prior to becoming pregnant.

Medical abortion pills should be available through Student Health Services to 5C students because there is no reason that college students should have to secure a ride and potentially endure trauma when making one of the biggest decisions of their lives.  

It is unclear whether or not there are medical abortion pills available to purchase at any public or private college or university in California, but that could change with the passage of a new law.

Senate Bill 320 would mandate that medical abortion pills be provided at all health centers in University of California and California State University starting in 2022 if passed. The bill, authored by Senator Connie Leyva, would impact more than 400,000 students who otherwise would have to go to their doctor or to a Planned Parenthood clinic to acquire this medication.

SB320 passed the California State Senate on Jan. 29 by a vote of 25-13-2 and is now waiting to be voted on in the Assembly. Anthony Portantino, the Senator who represents Claremont, voted yes. If this bill was passed, it would set an enormous precedent for future legislation as well as how the government values access to reproductive care.

At UC Berkeley, an activist group called Students United for Reproductive Justice was among the first to speak out in support of this bill. The 5Cs are an incredibly politically active consortium, and if we had a chapter of SURJ here, we might have a better means to get more emergency contraception and/or medical abortion pills on our campuses.

Many anti-abortion groups have criticized this bill for using government funds to subsidize abortions. However, none of the money used to provide this medicine would come out of university budgets. Private organizations, such as the Women’s Foundation of California, the Tara Health Foundation, and an anonymous donor, have come together to finance the $14 million that would cover implementing the bill.

Reproductive rights are increasingly essential in a world that consistently restricts access to reproductive care, particularly with a Congress that continuously includes defunding Planned Parenthood as a part of its annual budget deal. Lawmakers and students should recognize the immense power they have to shape women’s lives and work to provide medical abortion pills in health centers to students — something people do not think they will need until they are faced with the reality and have no access to it.

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