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Abortion Pills Are Now Mandatory on California College Campuses, But Perhaps Not For Long

FILE - In this May 21, 2019 file photo, people rally in support of abortion rights at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a measure, on Friday, Oct. 11,2019, that will require public colleges and universities to offer abortion medication at campus health centers.

People rally in support of abortion rights at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. in 2019 as Gov. Gavin Newsom (R) signs SB24, which requires public colleges and universities to offer abortion medication at campus health centers.

The latest battles over reproductive rights are happening on college campuses across the nation as California becomes the first state to implement measures that will make abortions more accessible to young people.

Beginning this week, all public colleges and universities in California are required to offer medication abortions. Students will be able to obtain a course of two abortion pills (mifepristone and misoprostol) from their campus health centers, then take the medication on their own.

The move to mandate expanded access to abortions is one way left-leaning states have fought against the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade after nearly 50 years.

The Dobbs ruling did not require states to make substantive changes to their abortion laws, but rather, removed protection for abortion on the federal level. As a result, states retain their own authority to regulate abortion in whatever way they see fit. The fallout has resulted in varied responses across the nation with some states going as far as enshrining the right to an abortion in their state constitutions while others have banned the procedure entirely.

Both before and after Dobbs, California lawmakers have been vocal about their commitment to protecting a woman’s right to abortions and to making practical regulations designed to increase access to abortion and other healthcare.

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) passed SB 24 the first law of its kind to require public colleges and universities to offer medication abortions through their campus health centers. The law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, just as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed its regulations to allow a commonly-used abortion medication to be dispensed through the mail and in retail pharmacies. It also provided one-time funding of $200,000 per campus in the state’s public university system to cover increased costs.

Using California’s bill as a model, Democrats in New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois are poised to enact similar policies at campuses in their states.

To counter California’s efforts to make abortion accessible on campuses, Golden State Republicans introduced the Protecting Life on College Campus Act of 2023 on Jan. 12, which would deny all federal funding to any college or university that provides abortions or abortion drugs to students.

Conservative anti-abortion groups are fighting the expanded access to medication abortions in court as well. One advocacy group has asked a federal court in Texas seeking a nationwide injunction to prevent the dispensing of mifepristone per the FDA’s updated regulations.

Donald Trump-appointee U.S. District Judge Matthew Joseph Kacsmaryk will preside over the group’s request. Kacsmaryk, a former conservative activist himself, has become known for his willingness to grant nationwide injunctions in cases involving hot-button political issues such as immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, and reproductive rights.

Should Kacsmaryk grant a nationwide injunction, it would likely set off a flurry of legal filings by those who would see the new FDA regulations on mifepristone upheld.

[image via AP/Rich Pedroncelli]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos