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California’s “Pro-Choice” Governor Vetoes Abortion Access Bill

Pro-choice legislators often don’t understand the lives or needs of those who seek abortion care.

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters during a news conference on May 11, 2017, in Sacramento, California.

On the 42nd anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have ensured access to free medication abortion on all 34 of the state’s public university campuses.

Both Brown’s decision to veto and his selection of September 30 — widely described as a “dark day in abortion rights history” — on which to announce the veto were disappointing coming from a governor who describes himself as “pro-choice,” according to abortion rights advocates.

As Truthout reported recently, the College Student Right to Access Act (SB 320) was student-led, funding-neutral legislation sponsored by State Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) in conjunction with The Women’s Foundation of California — a statewide, publicly supported foundation dedicated to achieving gender, racial and economic justice.

“I am truly disappointed that Gov. Brown vetoed the ‘College Student Right to Access Act,’” Leyva said in a press release following Brown’s action. “At its core, SB 320 affirmed the constitutional right of college students to access abortion care promptly and without delay.”

Brown made it clear in his statement to the State Senate that he fundamentally does not understand the landscape of abortion access — or, frankly, of the state he governs.

“Access to reproductive health services, including abortion, is a long-protected right in California,” Brown’s statement reads. “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. Because the services required by this bill are widely available off-campus, this bill is not necessary.”

As the supporters submitted multiple studies from campus-wide surveys, as well as from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) — a collaborative research group at the University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, it’s unclear which study Brown is referencing. (His office did not return requests from Truthout for additional comment or clarification.)

No matter which study Brown was intending to reference, however, the governor has missed a fundamental point: Both the 2015 campus survey and the ANSIRH studies cited in SB 320 make clear that distance is not the only barrier to abortion access — cost is a significant barrier too. The legislation that Brown vetoed sought to address the barrier of cost by eliminating the copays and the expense of going off campus.

Students at California’s public universities are not an affluent group: 21 percent are food insecure and 25 percent have had to choose between paying for food and educational or housing expenses. With the student health plan leaving an average $604 out-of-pocket cost for medication abortion, having a clinic on the same block wouldn’t ensure access to treatment for the average of 519 students who seek it each month. Additionally, five to seven miles is still a difficult distance to traverse for students without a means of transportation in a state without much public transit. Paying to get to a clinic and back for both required appointments (one to dispense the medication and one to ensure the induced miscarriage was completed) adds up.

Adiba Khan, co-founder of Berkeley Students United for Reproductive Justice, released a statement drawing attention to these barriers, arguing: “Gov. Jerry Brown chose to turn his back on students’ experiences and instead hide behind bogus claims to deny increased access to abortion. He completely discounted the burden that travel, time, and additional costs can impose on students.”

“I am hopeful that our incoming Legislature and Governor will agree that the right to choose isn’t just a slogan,” she said in a statement, “but rather a commitment to improving true access to abortion for students across California.”With his term ending this year, Jerry Brown will leave office with this veto as his reproductive rights legacy. It’s unclear whether either candidate — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom or President Trump-endorsed John Cox — will be likely to heed the wishes of the 6 in 10 Californians who support abortion care on campus if the legislation manages to reach the governor’s desk again. Whoever wins in November, Leyva has pledged to keep fighting for campus access to free medication abortion for the 238,000 students at the state’s public universities.

With the likely addition of a second Trump appointee to the Supreme Court bench and resulting fears about the possible nullification of Roe v. Wade, Brown’s decision to veto the medication abortion bill may affect abortion access beyond his state’s borders. Only eight other states — Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — explicitly protect the right to abortion. Eleven states had adopted 22 new abortion restrictions as of July 1 of this year; Iowa is attempting to ban abortion at six weeks (before most people know they’re pregnant) and Kentucky is trying for a 12-week ban.

Twenty-nine states are already designated as “hostile” or “extremely hostile” to abortion rights, according to the sexual and reproductive health and rights nonprofit, the Guttmacher Institute. Four — North and South Dakota, Louisiana and Alabama — have “trigger bans” that automatically ban all abortion should Roe v. Wade be nullified or overturned. Patients in the barren abortion care landscape that would be left would then have to crowd into the clinics that remain. Jerry Brown may not be politically accountable to those who live in Utah, Arizona, West Texas or Idaho, but that won’t stop his actions from reverberating beyond California’s borders.As abortion becomes harder to access, pregnant people are faced with additional costs for travel, which can cause delays that put the procedure even further out of reach. Last year’s report from the Abortion Care Network, the national association for independent community-based, abortion care providers and their allies, outlined a clinic closure trend that can only make waiting times for appointments longer. Analysis by Rewire.News two years ago following the wave of Texas clinic closures found that, predictably, “states bordering Texas had reported a surge in the number of out-of-state patients seeking abortion care.” Combine these trends and it’s hard to nonchalantly turn away from legislation like SB 320 that would have freed up over 1,000 appointments (two for each of the 516 students seeking medication abortion) per month across the state.

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