Hochul pressures public colleges in New York to offer abortion pills to students

Gov. Kathy Hochul has been pressing the state’s public colleges and universities to make abortion pills available to students — a measure that has been frozen in the legislature since 2019.

Hochul, who outlined her plans Tuesday in state for 2023, said she will ensure that all colleges and universities in the State University of New York and CUNY systems offer abortion pills at student health centers or establish relationships with local residents. Reproductive health care providers for referring students.

Nihakira Rao, co-founder of student advocacy group Reproductive Justice Group, said, “Knowing the struggle that goes into accessing reproductive care on campus, there’s a difference between something that’s legal and something that’s truly accessible.”

Governor Kathy Hochul delivers her State of the State address in the Assembly Hall at the State Capitol, Tuesday, January 10, 2023, in Albany, New York

Hazel Crampton-Hayes, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the proposal “could be done administratively by these respective institutions or legislatively.”

Spokespersons for both systems indicated that they will work with the governor to ensure access to reproductive health care. The CUNY rep added that all health centers have practitioners who can at least prescribe pills or make a referral to nearby providers.

A bill in Albany to offer abortion drugs on public college campuses, which was proposed in 2019, was still in committee at the end of the last session. She originally applied to SUNY, but was expanded to CUNY last year, according to Assemblywoman Harvey Epstein, her sponsor in the chamber along with State Sen. Cordell Claire.

Epstein estimated that the guidance could include $5 million in state funding to support schools that do not yet have the infrastructure or resources available, most of which are community colleges.

The spokesperson confirmed that the governor’s next executive budget would include additional policies and funding details related to the proposal.

Student advocates say improving access to abortion on campus is vital after the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion in June — prompting some states to enact blanket bans and residents to seek reproductive health care elsewhere such as New York.

Brigid Alliance, a service that provides logistical support to people traveling to abortions, reported a 60% increase in clients coming from those states to New York.

“What medication does on campus is that students don’t have to experience delays and waiting times, which can be weeks,” said Rao, a senior at Barnard College, adding that the abortion pill is only prescribed for the first weeks of pregnancy. “A long delay this week may mean a difference in the action you can get to.”

Rao added that students seeking to obtain their healthcare needs on campus could reduce the burden on clinics for the general public.

CUNY Medgar Evers College

In addition, many clinics have become hotspots for clashes with abortion opponents, according to Hennessy Garcia, a student at CUNY Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights — who was a member of the NYC for Abortion Rights pushing back against Planned Parenthood protesters in SoHo. Being on campus can help students avoid those encounters.

“It will definitely reduce fear among students,” said Garcia, who also organizes with the reproductive justice group.

Students can also face barriers to transportation related to abortion, high costs, or trouble navigating student health insurance coverage. The advocacy group found that some colleges limit the number of students allowed in cars on campus, and the New York school is the furthest from the clinic, more than 68 miles.

Last October, Barnard College, a women’s college, announced that it would prepare and train campus providers to offer abortion medication by the fall of 2023. California and Massachusetts have already passed similar legislation to provide the pills at public university health centers.

“It’s really embarrassing that New York is in third place!” Rao said.

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