Opinion: Increase Access to Reproductive Health Services on Campuses

by Morgan Dobbins

TALLAHASSEE, FL — Florida State University (FSU) is one of the biggest public institutions in Florida. It has an enrollment of nearly 42,000 students of which 55% are women. FSU also has a unique relationship to state politics since it is located in the state capitol. Due to its location, FSU has the opportunity to effect legislation that impacts the entire Florida University system. This year, lobbying from students helped to increase access to Bright Future scholarships and block tuition that would allow students to take more than 12 hours of classes at the same rate.

If FSU were to take a dramatic stance on abortion, it would impact all public universities in the state.

Earlier this year, there was a movement by the Women’s Student Union to provide free pregnancy tests on Florida State University’s campus. There is currently one location off-campus that provides free pregnancy tests. However, it is faith-based and requires women to sign a form promising to become sexually inactive, according to students who have used their services. The University offers pregnancy tests, but these cost money and prevent low-income students from seeking the quick answers they need. To mitigate this problem, the Student Government Association Senate decided unanimously to fund 450 tests. 

The Women’s Student Union also wants to provide the Plan B pill, but that is controversial based on competing definitions of abortion. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to determine the exact moment the sperm meets the egg and it has been widely agreed upon that the Plan B is not an abortion pill.

My Experience with Birth Control and Abortion

When I became pregnant almost three years ago, I paid around $500 to take the abortion pill at Planned Parenthood. First, I was taken to do a blood test and urine test to make sure that I was healthy before I was taken back to have an ultrasound where I was made to listen to the heartbeat. I was confirmed to be about six weeks pregnant and because I was before the nine-week mark, I was able to take the abortion pill. When I finally met with the doctor, he made sure that I wanted to go through with the procedure and then discussed the way to take the medicine and how my body would react.

I took the mifepristone at the clinic in the presence of the doctor and was given the misoprostol to take the next morning. I also signed up to get birth control that I could take once the abortion was over. I was given a prescription for high grade Ibuprofen to help with the pain. I was not supposed to take pain medication until 30 minutes after I took the misoprostol. I woke up on Saturday and took the misoprostol at 9 a.m. like the doctor told me and quickly began heavy cramping. It is the most painful experience I have ever had in my life. It felt like I was being stabbed repeatedly and I took the pain pills as soon as possible. I was supposed to take the pain pills every four hours, but the pain was so intense that I had to take them every two hours. I spent most of the day bleeding and sleeping, until it finally ended on Sunday.

At 21, I was not ready to be a mother and I had not practiced safe sex because I had a hormone condition that made me believe I was infertile. After going through this horribly painful and expensive experience, I chose to fulfill my birth control prescription provided by Planned Parenthood. Because it was marked as pregnancy prevention after abortion, my insurance would not cover it and the out of pocket cost was around $120. 

I chose to not get birth control and spent the next few months cycling between taking extreme doses of Black Cohosh and Dong Quai, which are considered abortificant herbs, any time I thought I might be pregnant. The side effects included light-headedness, dizziness, and nausea. After about six months, I went to an OB/GYN and got birth control but because of my previous diagnosis with the hormone condition PCOS, I was not required to pay any out of pocket fee for my prescription.

This experience with abortion taught me about the importance of having quality access to reproductive services, especially since they are legal in every state. Although Roe v. Wade legalized abortion throughout the country in 1972, restrictions on providers have decimated access and placed the burden on pregnant women to find access to the services they need. 

Reproductive Health Access in Florida

As of Jan. 2018 in Florida, Affordable Care Act plans only cover abortion if the woman’s life is endangered or in the case of raper or incest. Women can purchase an optional rider for an additional cost. A woman must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion and the provider must offer her the option to view the image. An abortion may only be performed 24 or more weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period if the woman’s life or health is endangered.

According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, in 2014, Florida had 86 abortion providing facilities and 71 of those were clinics. In Florida, abortion clinics are facilities licensed for the termination of pregnancy, while hospitals or physicians office may also provide this procedure, but not exclusively. 70 percent of Florida counties had no clinics in that same year, causing the 20 percent of Floridian women living in those counties to have no access to an abortion clinic.

According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, a total of 9,370 abortions have been performed this year. 8,866 of these were 1st trimester abortions and 504 were 2nd trimester abortions. So far, none have been 3rd trimester abortions. This year, a total of 14 abortions were performed due to rape and 1 was performed due to incest. 7,564 were elective abortions, while 1,508 were due to social or economic reasons, 100 were performed due to Emotional/Psychological health of the mother, 102 were performed due to the physical health of the mother that is not life endangering, 12 were performed due to a life endangering physical condition and 69 were performed due to a serious fetal genetic defect, deformity or abnormality.

In Alachua county, where the University of Florida is located, 316 abortions have been performed. A quick online search shows that there are currently three abortion providing locations in Gainesville alone. Leon county, where Florida State University (FSU) is located, has reported 170 total abortions this year. There is only one location that provides abortions in Tallahassee.

When I went into the Women’s Health Clinic at FSU, I was shocked to learn that there is only one place in Tallahassee that provides abortions and it is 15 minutes away from campus. I asked the nurse practitioner why abortions were not provided on campus and she told me there is no OB/GYN on campus.

I spoke to FSU’s Center for Health and Wellness Interim Director, Rose Rezaei about the lack of OB/GYN’s on campus. “We have a Women’s Clinic at FSU utilizing highly qualified nurse practitioners to service the needs of our students requesting annual exams, and/or acute/chronic management of women’s health issues,” Rezaei said. She explained that the majority of students use gynecological care and few need obstetric care/gynecological surgery care. “We generally refer to our community OB/GYN partners who work very closely with us to ensure the best obstetric/surgical gynecology care for our FSU students who need these more specialized services.”

She also informed me that students who utilize the university health insurance can get access to birth control for no cost. There are also free condoms at many popular locations on campus, such as Strozier Library. When I asked whether or not transportation services were provided to pregnant students to off-campus abortion clinics, Rezeai said, “We offer transportation support to all students unable to get to an on campus medical appointment.”

Recently the Florida House passed HB 1429, titled “Dismemberment Abortion,” which sought to end any abortion that used the dismemberment of the fetus as a method to end the abortion. This would make the common procedure of Dilation and Evacuation illegal; however, the Florida Senate killed the bill in the Health Policy Committee. Because most public universities provide merely basic health care services and not services like surgeries or even dental care, providing the vacuum aspiration and dilation and evacuation methods would require more advanced staff than the university could provide.

Patricia Singletary, the President of Generation Action at FSU, which serves as the student Planned Parenthood outreach and engagement club, spoke to me about the feasibility of abortion on Florida State’s campus. “I think it’s important to have abortion be as accessible as possible to students because it’s an important, necessary medical procedure, but I don’t think it’s all that feasible with all the red tape. Maybe the abortion pill,” Singletary said.

Recently, the group hosted an event that provided students with information on where to get abortions in Tallahassee, but the signs advertising the event were taken down. This political contention about abortion would provide major barriers and backlash to providing any form of abortion on campus.

The National Scene

As of this January, California has begun discussing providing medication abortion at public universities. The bill SB320 would require all university campuses to offer the service by 2022 on the grounds that private donors would pay up to $20 million in start-up costs. The bill was read once in Assembly and is being held at the desk currently. Currently no universities provide abortion on campus and if this bill passes, it would be a major step towards abortion access.

According to Pew Research, 57 percent of Californians and 56 percent of Floridians think abortion should be legal in all/most cases. However, Florida and California differ greatly although they are both known for fantastic weather. Currently, the Governor, State House and State Senate in Florida are all Republican controlled, with the State House holding a super majority meaning that if all votes occurred on party lines, democratic input would not alter the passing of a bill. Since 2011, Florida Republicans have held a trifecta of governance. They also held a trifecta from 1999-2009. Over the years, the Republican party has become grounded in the Pro-Life ideology. This was obvious in the case of HB 1429; most Democrats voted no while most Republicans voted yes.

In a state with this political make-up it seems highly unlikely that abortion, even as a pill, would effectively become mandated for universities to provide. Current restrictions are likely to remain and continue to restrict access to abortion for some women.

Long Term Solutions

If I had not had an abortion at 21, I know for a fact that I would not be completing my degree at Florida State University right now. In a situation where both partners are participating in unprotected sex, it is unfair for the woman to be placed with the added burden of potentially having to raise a child.

Abortion is merely a quick solution to the critical problem in this country of access to comprehensive sexual education and contraceptives. Abortion has been around for hundreds of years and that will not change if abortions become illegal. Eliminating legalized abortion would not make unwanted pregnancies stop, it would just cause women to go to more drastic lengths to end the pregnancy. For instance, Ireland currently bans abortions and many of these women travel to other European countries for the procedure.

Poorer individuals may not have this opportunity leaving them with the option to try unsafe abortion practices or bringing a child into the world they cannot or do not want to properly care for. The choice to have a child should be a decision that is made when both parents are responsible and ready to provide the necessary care for the child. Reducing access to abortion could create situations where people have unwanted children. In Dec. 2017, 1,124 children were removed from their homes; 23,832 children were receiving services from the Florida Department of Children and Families in out-of-home care.

These statistics highlight an issue with the common alternative to abortion—adoption. There are funding issues for the Department of Children and Families in Florida, such as not enough funding for the judicial courts. This can lead to less children being removed from neglectful or abusive households.

When I worked as drug tester in Tennessee, we contracted with the Department of Children Services and I saw so many positive drug test results for parents who were going through the legal process of losing or trying to regain custody of their children. Some of these individuals had multiple children, showed obvious signs of mental instability and drug addiction. I couldn’t help but wonder what made these individuals choose to have these children.

One women who worked for an adoption agency wrote an article where she shared that many women she encountered could not afford an abortion and had no way to raise the child on their own. That is a primary reason the majority of these women put the child up for adoption; not for religious reasons, but for a lack of alternatives to carrying the baby to term. I knew that if I had my child I would never be able to give it up for adoption, that is why I knew abortion was my only option.

While abortion is not an ideal solution, sometimes access to a better option than an unwanted pregnancy. So how can abortion be prevented?

One way to prevent abortion would be to provide more comprehensive sex education and access to birth control. According to the Florida Department of Education, in Section 1003.42 (2)(n), Florida State Statutes, required instruction for comprehensive health education must address “the benefits of sexual abstinence as the expected standard and the consequences of teenage pregnancy.”

In Section 1003.46, Florida State Statutes Health Education, a school shall “Teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age students while teaching the benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage. [Schools should] Emphasize that abstinence from sexual activity is a certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, including acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and other associated health problems.”

This kind of teaching has been found to not be effective in reducing teen pregnancy rates or STDs. In fact, one study found correlations between abstinence based teaching and higher pregnancy rates.  In 2016, a total of 6,081 births occurred by those 18 years and under, which included 17 at the age of 13. White mothers under 18 represented 3,866 of the births, Black mothers represented 1,920 births, while other represented 247 births. If more comprehensive sexual education were taught in schools, the number of teen pregnancies would drop, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

In Florida, under statute 381.0051, maternal health and contraceptive information and services of a nonsurgical nature may be provided to minors who are married, a parent, pregnant, has consent of parent or guardian, or may suffer health hazards if the services are not provided. This is problematic because many parents may not consent to allowing their teens to begin birth control, which could lead to an unwanted pregnancy.

If students enter college without basic contraceptive or sexual understanding and they then have the freedom to party and engage in sexual behavior, many may not know how to prevent pregnancy. While I think Florida should provide the abortion pill on public college and university campuses, I think tis more important to provide comprehensive sexual education to high school students.

The overall goal should be to prevent those who don’t want kids from having kids at a time when they may not be the most responsible or experienced to be an ideal parent. Studies show that children raised in poverty have a 50% less chance of success than those raised with enough, even with good parenting.

If we want a prosperous future, addressing unwanted pregnancy and abortion is of vital importance. We cannot discuss abortion without addressing what leads to unwanted pregnancy. Addressing contraceptive access and comprehensive sexual education will lower the rates of abortion, but abortion should still be available in the cases where pregnancy is still unwanted. Florida public universities should provide access to the abortion pill on campus, but this will not happen until comprehensive sex education and access to birth control is improved. Their influence will be of great importance in the struggle for greater access to reproductive health and sex education.

Morgan Dobbins is a junior Media/Communication Studies and English major at Florida State University.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.

The photo above was taken by the reporter.

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