Column: California college students who want abortions were slapped in the face by Jerry Brown

Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom
Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, right, takes over from Jerry Brown in January and could reverse his stance on providing access to abortion pills to university students.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

It takes a particularly privileged, out-of-touch person to tell California college students that it’s no big inconvenience for them to travel up to seven miles to obtain an abortion pill.

Good grief, Jerry Brown.

For the record:
9:55 AM, Dec. 12, 2018 An earlier version of this column reported that private funds would cover the cost of medication abortions for students. The private funds will be used for any necessary training. Public funds already cover the cost of abortions for low-income women in California.

What happened to your common sense, your compassion and your desire to help young women make better lives for themselves? Why did you align yourself with the forces that would turn back the clock on women’s rights?

In September, our outgoing governor received a bill that would have required health centers at University of California and Cal State University campuses to provide students with pills that can terminate pregnancies of up to 10 weeks. This would make life easier for the 500 or so Cal State and UC students who seek medication abortions each month.

Private funds would cover the cost of training clinic staff for these abortions, which require one visit to obtain pills and a second visit to make sure they worked.

For reasons that are not remotely defensible, Brown vetoed the bill.

“Access to reproductive health services, including abortion, is a long-protected right in California,” he wrote in his brief veto message. “According to a study sponsored by supporters of this legislation, the average distance to abortion providers in campus communities varies from five to seven miles, not an unreasonable distance.”

Unreasonable for whom, Governor?

How is it in the interest of public health to force pregnant college students to travel miles for two pills that they could easily pick up from their campus health center?

More than half of UC and CSU students are considered low-income. Two thirds of UC students don’t have cars and one third of CSU students don’t. Leaving campus means missing class, or work or study time.

These are not insurmountable burdens, obviously. But why should they exist at all? In California, if a patient has to spend more than 30 minutes traveling for primary health care, the care is considered “inaccessible.” That policy is enshrined in the Code of Regulations, which governs state agencies.

According to UC San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, which assessed the barriers to medication abortion faced by college students, the visits required for a medication abortion at a clinic five miles away would require a minimum of two hours’ travel by public transportation. If access to abortion is a “long-protected right,” what’s the point of the governor’s veto?

Thankfully, the bill was reintroduced by its sponsor, Democratic State Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino. “It is critically important that we reaffirm the constitutional right of college students to access abortion care without delay, and that should always include student health centers on public university campuses,” she wrote on Dec. 3 when she revived the bill in Sacramento.

Leyva hopes — and so should we all — that incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom will be more supportive of young women, who have every right to unencumbered abortions.

Can we count on you, Mr. Governor-elect?

::

I have always been pro-choice, but there was a long period of time when I thought it was necessary to offer caveats because of the emotions that this debate stirs up: It’s a difficult decision, it’s a necessary evil and it should be “safe, legal and rare,” the Clinton-era catchphrase.

I’m done with that.

I refuse to bemoan it as a necessary evil — though for some women, it may be. I no longer describe it as a difficult decision, though for some women, it may be.

I celebrate it as one of the safest medical procedures on Earth. I embrace it as an essential tool for independence.

Without the right to determine when to have children, women will never have true agency.

I have watched as heroic abortion doctors have been charged with crimes, then murdered by antiabortion fanatics. I have watched states like Texas and Mississippi try to legislate abortion out of existence by making rules that are impossible for abortion clinics to follow.

The last place I expected more abortion obstruction was California.

We have a new, presumably antiabortion justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. To the dismay of antiabortion conservatives, he sided on Monday with the court’s liberals and Chief Justice John Roberts, refusing to hear a pair of appeals backed by 13 states that sought to defund Planned Parenthood. But there is no reason to believe that Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 case legalizing abortion, may not be in danger. It is essential that women speak out about the importance of this cherished constitutional right.

Which brings me to the latest, laudable effort to spread the good word.

::

Lindy West, left, and Amelia Bonow are co-creators of #ShoutYourAbortion.
Lindy West, left, and Amelia Bonow are co-creators of #ShoutYourAbortion.
(Courtesy Amelia Bonow)

“Shout Your Abortion” began, as so many social movements do these days, on Twitter.

In 2015, Amelia Bonow, a graduate student in Washington state, was distressed at yet another move by House Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood. On her Facebook page, she described the relief she had felt after an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Seattle.

“I remember this experience with a near inexpressible level of gratitude,” she wrote. “I am telling you this today because the narrative of those working to defund Planned Parenthood relies on the assumption that abortion is still something to be whispered about….Having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way.”

Her friend, the Guardian columnist Lindy West, tweeted out Bonow’s statement with the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion. Things sort of snowballed from there.

Last week, an anthology of essays by women unabashed to tell the world about their abortions was published by PM Press, with a forward by West. The title, naturally, is “Shout Your Abortion.” The essays are poignant, funny, straightforward or militant. None is a tale of regret, because so few women regret their abortions.

“We need to build a culture in which talking about abortion becomes as normal as the procedure itself,” West writes. “People who have abortions are good people, and abortion has helped millions of us live our best lives. We are not sorry.”

Nor should we ever be.

Abortion is a social good. It should be as accessible as possible. Especially on the campuses of California’s universities.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT