Today, pseudoscience is being used to limit UT students’ access to abortion at University Health Services. UT students should campaign for the legislative change necessary to remedy this infringement on reproductive rights.
The abortion pill, mifepristone, was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration 20 years ago. Currently, medical abortions make up more than one-third of all abortions in the U.S.
As reproductive freedoms in Texas shrink and COVID-19 further erodes students’ access to reproductive services, UT students should campaign for the state to permit UHS to offer medical abortions to students.
Students can tangibly do so by voting to elect pro-choice candidates in November and writing to representatives who are proven allies.
Additionally, Sameeha Rizvi, co-director of Student Government’s Women’s Resource Agency, noted that the UT community could advocate by organizing an on-campus alliance among organizations that already champion reproductive justice.
“I think if we all work together as a conglomerate and truly advocate for this, it would be super powerful,” Rizvi said.
Together, UT student groups like the Women’s Resource Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, Deeds at UT Austin, Texas Rising at UT, Medical Students for Choice and Students for Planned Parenthood have broad and expanding platforms that find common cause on this issue.
We would not be the first public university to take up this fight.
“Trust students” was the slogan for the University of California, Berkeley student coalition JustCARE that pushed for the passage of California Senate Bill 24, which requires all California public universities to ensure access to medical abortions at university health centers by 2023.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law Oct. 11, 2019.
Bill H.3841 in Massachusetts, “An Act to require public universities to provide medical abortion,” is under review in the state’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.
At present, UHS is not legally permitted to prescribe medical abortions because it does not employ M.D.s to deliver women’s healthcare.
“As state law requires that medical abortions be provided by a physician, no member of our Women’s Health staff would be legally able to provide this service,” Susan Hochman, associate director for assessment, communications and health information technology for UHS, said in an email.
However, there is no science-based reason why nurse practitioners, who are part of the Women’s Health Clinic staff at UT, could not oversee medical abortions. Nurse practitioners routinely prescribe controlled substances like narcotics, which have much higher potential for immediate and longer-term complications than medical abortions. The law Hochman refers to aims to frighten people into viewing medical abortion as risky.
It is not. The success rate for medical abortions exceeds 99%.
Moreover, even if UHS employed physicians who were allowed under state law to provide medical abortions, the state incentivizes UT to restrict this critical service.
“State law prohibits most government entities, including institutions of higher education, from contracting with abortion providers,” Hochman said. “Under the state’s General Appropriations Act, providing medical abortions would prevent the university from receiving state funds.”
Currently, UHS refers students seeking all abortion services, including medical abortion, to community resources. To be prescribed the necessary medicine, students have to secure transportation to a clinic that may be located far from their residence. This puts a substantial logistical and financial burden on students.
We do not have to accept the status quo. We can dissent.
The passage of Senate Bill 24 in California demonstrates that empowered student voices can bring about lasting change. As UT students, we must use our voices to urge state representatives to join us in the fight for reproductive freedom.
Strelitz-Block is a Plan II sophomore from Austin, Texas.