by Sydney Porto
In June, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on the landmark case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade. They ruled that the Constitution does not confer the right to abortion, and states may make their own regulations concerning the issue. Since this decision, abortion restrictions have gone into effect in many states across the country. Policies for abortion access have changed swiftly in many states, as a result it is hard to keep track of exactly what the political reality is in any one place. However, Mudd is in a state that has worked to secure reproductive freedom; while other states have moved to limit abortion, California has sought to protect it and advance other issues of reproductive justice.
Recently the California State Legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom have taken several steps to increase access to reproductive healthcare in California. In March, Governor Newsom signed SB245, legislation that would prohibit health insurance plans from requiring out-of-pocket payments for abortion services. California already requires health plans to cover abortions, but this bill goes further to make abortion services financially accessible, and it is scheduled to go into effect in January 2023.
Then, in June, as other states moved to restrict access to reproductive healthcare in wake of the Dobbs case, the California State Legislature adopted a constitutional amendment, SCA 10, that protects an individual’s right to reproductive freedom, including access to abortion and contraceptives. This amendment was on the statewide ballot in November. Also in June, Governor Newsom signed an executive order protecting a patient’s medical privacy and a California Assembly Bill AB1666 which aims to protect individuals who provide, aid, or receive abortions in California from civil action. In the same month, the Governor also signed bill AB178, amending the state budget and appropriating more than $200 million for reproductive health care.
Increasing access to contraceptives has also been a goal of the California State Legislature. Recently the California State Senate passed SB 523, the Contraceptive Equity Act of 2022, a bill that would expand access to contraceptive and vasectomy services. The bill requires “health insurers to provide point-of-sale coverage for over-the-counter FDA approved contraceptive drugs, devices, and products at in-network pharmacies without cost sharing or medical management restrictions.” This policy would also apply to insurance plans offered by both public and private universities and colleges. However, it should be noted that access to contraceptives has not been prioritized in the same way securing abortion rights has been over the past several months. Between May when the draft opinion of Dobbs was released and late July, the California State Legislature proposed 13 bills to protect abortion rights, but nowhere near an equal number of bills has been introduced related to contraceptive access.
Despite all this legislation, disparities still exist in access to contraceptives and abortion. With regard to abortion access, 40% of counties in California had no clinics that provided abortions in 2017, according to the most recent data from the Guttmacher Institute. And, for contraceptives, there are policies which lead to inequities in access. By California law, pharmacists are required to fill valid birth control or Plan B prescriptions from a doctor, even if they have moral or religious objections. Pharmacists may additionally offer pharmacist- prescribed birth control; however, they are not required to do so. Pharmacies are also not required to carry or dispense Plan B over the counter, so if a pharmacist has a moral or religious objection, they do not have to provide Plan B to patients without prescriptions. These policies result in disparities in access. A study conducted from June to November 2017 found that three in four pharmacies in Los Angeles offered over-the-counter emergency hormonal contraceptives, while only one in ten offered pharmacist-prescribed birth control. Even fewer pharmacies in predominantly Black, Latinx, or low-income neighborhoods have pharmacist-prescribed birth control. And almost half of the pharmacies in the study who sold over-the-counter emergency contraception also imposed age restrictions, even though the FDA removed these age restrictions in 2013.
Even though we go to school in a blue state that protects reproductive freedom, things are still not perfect, and there are many other places across the country that are actively restricting reproductive rights. This semester, Georgia Klein, Arianna Meinking, and I have formed a new club, Reproductive Justice @HMC (RJ@ HMC), to become more engaged with the movement for reproductive justice. We are affiliated with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, and in the future, we hope to hold volunteering events and forums to discuss issues of reproductive justice. We are also planning to reach out to SHS to make sure students at Mudd have access to the reproductive healthcare they need. We are hoping to encourage SHS to update information on their website and make emergency contraceptives more accessible to Mudd students. And, we will be sending out monthly newsletters to keep club members informed about current developments in policies around the country.