When Jessy Rosales was a 20-year-old student at UC Riverside, she had a second-trimester abortion.
While she was not initially certain she was pregnant, a visit in the fall of 2016 to her campus’s Student Health Services clinic confirmed it.
The next steps were “a no-brainer,” Rosales said — she wanted an abortion. “The reason why that was so logical is because deciding to parent is a huge, life-altering decision,” she explained.
As a young student, Rosales said, she had a lot of growing up to do, more to discover about her queer identity, financial stability to achieve and a college degree to complete. Ultimately, she was not ready to become a parent.
“I had so many dreams and possibilities of things that I could be and who I wanted to be,” Rosales said.
Despite her certainty in the decision, it took Rosales three months to get an abortion. Multiple factors contributed to the delays, but she said that “the medical system creating unnecessary leaps and hurdles” was largely to blame.
Without ultrasound technology at her campus health center, Rosales did not have confirmation of the length of her pregnancy after the initial positive test.
The health center also did not offer abortion services, so she had to rely on referrals to off-site abortion clinics, which had weeks of waiting lists. One agency she was referred to did not offer abortions; another said they would not accept her insurance.
Rosales said she struggled to navigate the medical system and understand insurance jargon.
Additionally, she was learning how to be financially independent and on her own for the first time, while also taking tough courses after switching her major.
All these factors made it challenging for Rosales to make appointments and calls. In the meantime, her pregnancy kept progressing.
“Pregnancies don’t wait for anybody,” Rosales said.
If medication abortions had been offered at UC Riverside when Rosales was a student, she would have likely qualified.
But because of the barriers, Rosales passed the 10-12 week threshold for a medication abortion. Instead, she had a surgical abortion costing about $600-$700, which used the rest of her financial aid money for the calendar year.
Even before Rosales became pregnant, she was involved in reproductive justice activism and served as president of Planned Parenthood Generation Action at UC Riverside. Her unwanted pregnancy just pushed her to become more involved.
“It became fuel to my fire because I really understood how difficult it was to access choice for me,” Rosales said.
She also became a coordinator for the justCARE campaign, which supported SB 24, the College Student Right to Access Act.
Introduced in December 2018 by state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, SB 24 requires CSU and UC campuses to offer non-surgical medication abortions, also known as “abortion pills,” for students by January 2023. More than 6,000 students could tap these services each year at UC and CSU campuses, according to UC San Francisco research program Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health.
Gov. Gavin Newsom approved the bill in 2019, and ever since, CSU and UC campuses have been prepping their student health centers. So far, none of the CSU campuses offer medication abortions, and options at UC vary between campuses; but both systems have committed to offering these services by the bill’s Jan. 1 deadline.
“Medication abortion is an important part of primary care and access to safe abortion care will now be easier for students,” Joy Stewart-James, Sacramento State’s associate vice president of student health and counseling services said via email.
While many UC campuses are scrambling to prepare their health centers to meet SB 24’s requirements, one campus is ready now.
UC Berkeley’s health center has to do nothing further to comply — it has offered abortion medication for students since 2020, according to University Health Services gynecologist Dr. Eleanore Kim.
The medication, mifepristone, is offered to students who have been pregnant for up to 70 days, or 10 weeks, according to the University Health Service’s website. Students can access this medication by first answering a questionnaire on the online health services portal; if they meet the criteria, they are contacted to make an in-person appointment. The website adds that questionnaires are reviewed by the next business day.
Kim said she feels that abortions are among services that students can have trouble accessing, whether it’s because clinics are far away or the costs of abortions are too high.
Although offering abortions on campus may not completely remove roadblocks for students, according to Kim, it does reduce them.
“Abortion is medical care, and so I think it falls directly in line with why student health centers should be offered at all,” Kim said. “You could ask, ‘Hey, why should we offer students abortions on campus?’ Well then, why should we offer any type of health care on campus?”
Students whose pregnancies are past 10 weeks usually can access abortions at private clinics, private gynecologist offices or Planned Parenthood, Kim said.
With the approval of SB 24, Rosales is confident that students across UC and CSU campuses will experience greater access to medication abortion.
“I totally wholeheartedly believe that this bill is going to help, and it’s going to change people’s lives,” Rosales said.