By Nina Rose, Editor in Chief
On October 11th, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 24, a bill that requires all UC and CSU on-campus health centers to offer medication abortions by 2023. A similar bill, also sponsored by State Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), was vetoed last year by former Governor Jerry Brown on the grounds that the bill was unnecessary, given the wide availability of abortion in the state, with each campus being an average of five to seven miles from an abortion clinic.
The bill’s intent is to “facilitate retention and graduation” by increasing the availability of abortions to students who become pregnant. The challenges of pregnant and parenting students do pose real obstacles to graduation. But, given the fact that California is already an abortion-friendly state, why has our state legislature wasted its efforts on increasing an already-available resource while refusing to address the needs of students who want to parent?
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 26% of all U.S. undergraduates are parents, and of this number, 43% are single mothers. While this demographic is already large and steadily growing, universities have failed to accommodate their needs: among student parents, only a third complete their degree within six years. California public colleges are no exception: for example, according to a report by Feminists for Life, only 44% of CSU and UC schools have family housing. Childcare is available at most of these universities, but costs can be as high as $123 per day and waitlists can be as long as several years. Considering that most student parents have low incomes — 61% of student parents have an Expected Family Contribution of $0 — many of the resources that are available on California public campuses are inaccessible and unaffordable.
On the other hand, abortion is already highly accessible to students in California. According to the Guttmacher Institute, there are 419 abortion-providing facilities in California. One such clinic is only three miles away from UCLA.
In the era of SB 24, a woman who finds herself pregnant may not have access to critical resources to help her succeed as a student parent. She may not have access to family housing, let alone affordable family housing. She may not be able to pay for childcare, or even get her child off the waitlist by the time she gives birth. She may look at these resources — or rather, the lack of resources — and think, “There is no way that I could be a student and a parent, even if I wanted to be.” But she will be able to do one thing: get an abortion pill at her campus health center. If the near-total deprivation of real choice is still not clear, consider the demographic at UCLA: while nationwide over a quarter of undergraduate students are parents, less than 1% of UCLA undergraduates are — only around 250 students out of more than 30,000.
In the era of SB 24, does a newly pregnant student really have a choice to parent? While the media — including the Daily Bruin — has hailed this bill as a step forward for women’s rights, the bill in reality fails to address and ultimately aggravates the problems faced by its targeted demographic. The bill operates on a widely held yet false assumption that students who become pregnant desire only one option — abortion — and ignores the needs of the thousands of California students who already are or wish to become parents. Instead of providing women with desperately-needed resources, this bill deprives them of choice by encouraging abortion while other options remain nearly impossible. Thus the bill exacerbates an already oppressive situation.
Therefore, in the era of SB 24, we have our work cut out for us. If our government does little to help and much to harm, then we, students at UCLA, residents of Los Angeles, and the greater population of California, have to step up and show support for pregnant and parenting students. And if we do enough, then perhaps, when SB 24 goes into effect in 2023, no student will be forced by desperation into having an on-campus abortion.