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California Lawmakers Consider Abortion Pills On Campus


States including Missouri and Mississippi passed laws aimed at dismantling Roe v. Wade. California is taking steps to try to affirm abortion rights. Lawmakers there are expected to pass a bill that requires health clinics at public universities to provide the abortion pill on campus. From KQED in San Francisco, April Dembosky reports the law would be the first of its kind in the country.

APRIL DEMBOSKY, BYLINE: Jessy Rosales was a sophomore at the University of California at Riverside. She had a boyfriend, and she was taking birth control pills. Then out of nowhere, she started feeling sick.

JESSY ROSALES: I went to my student health center, and, you know, I just thought it was a stomach flu. And it turns out that I was pregnant.

DEMBOSKY: Rosales was clear that she was not ready to have a baby. She wanted a medication abortion, where she'd take one pill at the clinic and a second one at home a day or two later to induce a miscarriage.

ROSALES: I just wanted that intimacy of dealing with it on my own in the privacy of my own home and being able to cry if I wanted to cry or just being able to curl up in my bed right away.

DEMBOSKY: But the first off-campus clinic she went to didn't do abortions. The second didn't take her insurance. By the time she could get an appointment at a third clinic, she was already in her second trimester, too late for a medication abortion. She had to have a surgical one.

ROSALES: The doctor kept telling me to relax, and I couldn't because it just hurt so bad.

DEMBOSKY: Rosales graduated last year, and now she's advocating for a bill that would make it easy for students like her to get a medication abortion at all 34 campuses of the University of California and California State University.

Opponents of the bill have organized several rallies against it.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Brothers and sisters, let us remember that we are in the presence of God and pause for a moment.

DEMBOSKY: At this one outside the Capitol, about 60 protesters in yellow T-shirts bowed their heads in prayer.



DEMBOSKY: Then they marched.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Don't kill babies. Don't kill babies.

DEMBOSKY: A consortium of pro-choice groups promised to pay for all the required ultrasound equipment and training costs of providing the abortion pill on campus. But eventually, universities would likely need to dip into tax dollars or student fees for ongoing costs. Abortion opponent Michele LaMonica told protesters that's not right.


MICHELE LAMONICA: Not on my dime. Not on my dime. Tax me to help the homeless. Tax me to help social services. But don't tax to pay for the disposal of human life.

DEMBOSKY: Critics say abortion is readily available off campus. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found clinics where an average six miles away from California campuses. Former Governor Jerry Brown cited this stat when he vetoed the same bill last year, saying it wasn't necessary.

NICK REYNOSA: That's like a $5 Uber ride.

DEMBOSKY: Nick Reynosa is a coordinator for Students for Life of America. He says this campaign is more politics than need.

REYNOSA: Over the last decade, many pro-choice activists feel that in red states, there's been a lot of momentum towards more abortion restrictions and this is a way to say no, here in blue California, we're going to affirm or expand Roe.

DEMBOSKY: The bill's supporters don't deny it. Phoebe Abramowitz was part of the student team that launched the campus abortion campaign at UC Berkeley four years ago.

PHOEBE ABRAMOWITZ: And now that we're doing statewide advocacy, we're hoping to set a national precedent that we can, even in these really hostile times to women and queer people, move access to abortion forward.

DEMBOSKY: This year, there's a new governor in Sacramento. And advocates are optimistic he'll side with them this time around. For NPR News, I'm April Dombrowski.

SIMON: That story is part of a reporting partnership between NPR, KQED and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

April Dembosky is the health reporter for The California Report and KQED News. She covers health policy and public health, and has reported extensively on the economics of health care, the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act in California, mental health and end-of-life issues. Her work is regularly rebroadcast on NPR and has been recognized with awards from the Society for Professional Journalists (for sports reporting), and the Association of Health Care Journalists (for a story about pediatric hospice). Her hour-long radio documentary about home funeralswon the Best New Artist award from the Third Coast International Audio Festival in 2009. April occasionally moonlights on the arts beat, covering music and dance. Her story about the first symphony orchestra at Burning Man won the award for Best Use of Sound from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. Before joining KQED in 2013, April covered technology and Silicon Valley for The Financial Times, and freelanced for Marketplace and The New York Times. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Smith College.