On the heels of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion, demand for more abortion care services has grown among university students across the country.
Access to abortion medication at university health service centers has been one of the biggest demands. Medication abortion is different from the more widely available morning-after pill, which is taken to block a pregnancy. The abortion pill includes taking one mifepristone pill, followed by one or multiple rounds of misoprostol pills during the first 10-12 weeks of gestation to terminate a pregnancy.
Some colleges have, or plan to make, abortion medication available, including the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Massachusetts Amherst. University of California and California State University schools will be required to provide the pills at campus medical centers starting Jan. 1, 2023, according to the Los Angles Times article.
However, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is unlikely to follow. As of now, University Health Services (UHS) on campus does not provide abortion medication.
“[Abortion medication] care falls outside the scope of our services. This is not affected by the recent Supreme Court decision,” UHS health communications strategist Sarah Clifford said.
Currently in Wisconsin, abortion access is virtually illegal as the state reverted to an 1849 law that banned clinical practice from medical providers. All four clinics in the state have halted procedures.
In response, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block this resurfaced ban. Although, if the ban were to be enforced, it would apply to medication abortion.
Publicly funded universities and those in states with restrictive abortion bans face legal barriers and hesitation to supply medication abortion, as laws and policy surrounding abortion continue to be in flux.
“[We] provide healthcare within the boundaries and requirements of state and federal law,” Clifford emphasized.
UHS provides abortion counseling and information about abortion medication to patients seeking health care resources.
Despite limited abortion-related care, UHS provides extensive contraception services to students. These include telehealth contraception consultations where students can be prescribed the appropriate contraceptive method over the phone with a provider and three types of emergency contraception — IUD insertions, levonorgestrel pills (Plan B) and ulipristal acetate tablets (Ella).
Samantha Herndon, communications manager at the Collaboration for Reproductive Equity (CORE) at UW-Madison, explained medical abortion has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 2000.
“Aid Access, Hey Jane and Plan C pills are some of the providers that CORE's research shows are used by Wisconsinites to access medication abortion,” she said.
CORE conducts and translates interdisciplinary research on reproductive healthcare and policy in Wisconsin, including information on reproductive services like medical abortion.
“Our research shows that [Wisconsinites] who need clinical care may travel to Illinois, Minnesota or other states to access abortion care,” Herndon said.
“However, some people cannot afford to go out of state, which can be very expensive with travel costs, overnight stays, childcare and other costs factored in,” she continued.
Medication abortion is considered self-managed, as it is obtained outside the formal healthcare system — which is still legal, per Wisconsin state law.