California Governor Jerry Brown

California Governor Decides He Knows Better Than Actual Women Students on Campus Abortion Access

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On Sunday, Jerry Brown, the Democratic Governor of California, vetoed a bill that would have provided cost-free medication abortion access at public state universities’ campus health centers. According to Brown, S.B. 320, which offered private funding for the medication abortion it provided and involved zero use of taxpayer dollars, was “unnecessary,” as he cited wide access to abortion off-campus throughout the state.

In contrast, Republican opponents of the bill have argued against S.B. 320 on the grounds that medication abortion is unsafe, despite how actual statistics show that abortion pills, which can be taken up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy, result in medical complications less than 0.25 percent of the time. In other words, medication abortion is safer than most everyday health care services that are strapped with none of the same controversy.

But with regard to Brown’s argument, let’s be clear: Sure, there’s no denying that California has some of the most liberal abortion laws in a country that’s seen more than a quarter of all 1,200 of its anti-abortion laws passed in the last five or so years alone, and there’s no denying that California has above average numbers of abortion clinics in a country where 90 percent of all counties lack an abortion provider.

But that’s not the point.

S.B. 320 served to acknowledge—among many other things—the existence of state universities in the rural stretches of central California, where the drive to and from the nearest abortion clinic can be an all-day affair that would certainly require students with unwanted pregnancies to miss class, work, or internships just to access basic care.

In sharp contrast with Brown’s justification that the bill was not reflective of students’ needs, here’s what he seems utterly unaware of: The bill wasn’t created by lawmakers who were imagining a hypothetical need for abortion access on college campuses. It was made by women college students, inspired by their lived experiences with struggling to access abortion, and the toll this took on their academic and professional lives and financial situations.

S.B. 320 was quite literally born out of student need, student activism, and student collaboration with lawmakers. Calling S.B. 320 “unnecessary” and vetoing the bill erases all of this, and certainly erases young women’s lived experiences with struggling to afford and access abortion without substantial burden. In addition to balancing school and work obligations, these struggles include the tremendous stress and physical discomfort of unwanted pregnancy, and certainly the highly limited funds of most college students.

And let’s be clear about something else: Access to free or affordable contraception doesn’t in any way mitigate the necessity of free abortion access on campus. The majority of people who have abortions report that they were using some form of contraception when they conceived. No matter what other resources you provide, abortion access remains an absolute necessity, and whether or not you personally identify as “pro-choice,” as Brown does, refusal to support abortion access for all, not just in theory but in practice, is to undermine abortion as a human right, and limit those who enjoy this right to those with the financial means to obtain it no matter the obstacles.

Brown’s decision to veto S.B. 320 and—as a wealthy, powerful white man—call the bill “unnecessary” sends a clear message about just how little our voices and lived experiences as young women matter to men in positions of power, and it’s an especially cruel blow as we watch politicians at the national level work to dismiss and invalidate sexual assault faced by teenage girls in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

In either case, much like Brown’s 2016 decision to veto a bill that would have slashed the tampon tax and instead draw revenue from a tax on alcohol, Brown’s decision to veto S.B. 320 underscores the vast disconnect between powerful men’s perceptions and young women’s real lives, and how unconcerned men like him are with actually learning about our experiences and including us in the conversation.

For college students, the ability to access abortion care, which is obstructed by geographic and financial barriers for many, can be the difference between whether they’re able to stay in school, or will be forced to drop out and potentially suffer a lifetime of economic disenfranchisement as a result. It’s a burden of epically stressful proportions that underscores the inequality college students face along gendered lines. Cisgender male students will never have worry about facing unwanted pregnancy, or being forced to miss obligations to seek health care, or struggling to pay for their abortions.

Brown’s vetoing of S.B. 320, while continuing to call himself pro-choice, is also a stark reminder of how today, the “pro-choice” label must encompass so much more than just the bare minimum of not actively opposing the right to an abortion and accepting objective science that fertilized eggs and fetuses are not the same as human children.

Being pro-choice means listening to and acknowledging the voices of those who are most affected by reproductive health legislation. It means proactively supporting legislation to make abortion and all reproductive health care as accessible as possible. It means refusing to support politicians who would use their power to attack and obstruct reproductive rights, which Jerry Brown has argued against.

When we choose which candidates to vote for and support, we have to do more than check off a box for whether or not they theoretically support abortion rights. We need lawmakers who know our experiences or are willing to listen and learn, who represent us and understand our needs, who have real, substantive plans for how to protect and expand reproductive rights. Certainly, what we need less of are wealthy, out-of-touch white men like Brown, who think they can determine what’s “unnecessary” for young women without listening to our voices or living our experiences.

(image: Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

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