Barnard College plans to offer abortion pills on campus

Barnard, New York’s private women’s college, will begin offering abortion pills on campus next year, college officials announced Thursday.

The ruling, which will take effect in September, shows how the nation’s colleges and universities are becoming another front in the nation’s pitched battle against abortion following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“I think we are putting a stake in the ground that we believe health and well-being is really the institution’s responsibility for students, and we want to do everything we can to support our students,” Sian L. Beilock, the president of Barnard, which operates in partnership with Columbia University, said in an interview.

In an email sent to campus on Thursday, Barnard officials wrote, “The overturning of Roe v. Wade after 50 years will likely reduce accessibility to college, lower graduation rates and derail trajectories job.” The email stated that while access to abortion in New York is currently strong, “we are also preparing in case there is a barrier to access in the future, for whatever reason. “.

This summer, Massachusetts enacted a law requiring public colleges and universities in the state to submit plans by November 2023 to provide abortion pills to students, either through their campus health centers or through a local service easily accessible to students. By January, public colleges and universities in California will be required by state law enacted in 2019 to offer the pills.

At the same time, colleges in states where abortion is banned or with strict restrictions are imposing measures to limit reproductive health services on campus.

Last month, the University of Idaho’s general counsel sent a memo to all employees stating that under Idaho’s near-total abortion ban, which went into effect in August, state university employees cannot counsel patients about abortion or refer them to abortion services. . If employees do so, the memo says, they could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony under the new law, lose their jobs, and be permanently barred from employment in the state.

The memo also said that Idaho law prohibits employees from dispensing emergency contraception except in cases of rape, and added that because it was unclear to what extent the law applied to other methods of contraception, “we advise a conservative approach here, that the university itself does not provide standard birth control.

Condoms can only be provided if they are intended to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the memo states, “not for birth control purposes.”

In general, colleges and universities have approached the question of whether to offer medical abortion with caution. Rachel Mack, spokeswoman for the American College Health Association, which represents more than 700 higher education institutions, said the issue was being discussed between the colleges and the Reproductive Rights Task Force. association.

“Not all schools have the resources to provide such a service and may refer to community providers,” Ms Mack said. “Campuses vary widely in their available resources – this can be due to location, the needs of their student population, and many other factors.”

A few colleges decided to offer abortion pills long before this year’s Supreme Court decision overruling Roe. The University of California at Berkeley has been doing this for a few years.

A study published in 2018 estimated that 322 to 519 students at public universities in California sought medical abortion each month, and many faced barriers related to cost, travel distance to providers, and long waits for appointments. -you.

In a survey conducted by the American College Health Association in 2020, 2.5% of 122 academic health centers said they offered medical abortions on campus, while 87% said they referred patients wishing abort.

At Barnard, Dr. Marina Catallozzi, vice president of health and wellness and chief health officer, said the addition of medical abortion was already on the college’s radar before some students encountered health service officials this year asking the school to provide it.

“We think this is of course a natural step in caring for a student population at risk of pregnancy,” said Dr. Catallozzi, noting that Barnard already offered a range of reproductive health services, including including an on-campus vending machine for emergency contraception for students who wish to obtain the morning after pill more privately than by visiting the wellness center.

“With every reproductive health decision, but especially around a pregnancy,” she said, “we want to make sure that students have all the options – if they want to pursue a pregnancy, if they they want to continue and move on to adoption, if they want to terminate.

Barnard officials said they decided not to offer the pills immediately in order to spend the next few months training staff, developing protocols and working out logistics. They said the pills would be covered by the college’s health insurance plan and emergency funding would be available for students without insurance or those who don’t want to use their parents’ insurance policies.

Medical abortion, legalized in the United States in 2000, generally involves two drugs: mifepristone, which blocks a hormone necessary for the development of pregnancy, followed 24 to 48 hours later by misoprostol, which causes contractions that expel the pregnancy tissue. The Food and Drug Administration requires mifepristone to be dispensed by specially certified providers, but patients can take the pills themselves at home or at any location they choose.

Patients with certain medical conditions, such as bleeding disorders, are not prescribed abortion pills. But for the many medically eligible patients, data indicates that medical abortion is safe and effective, with a small percentage of patients requiring a procedure to completely remove pregnancy tissue and an even smaller proportion experiencing serious complications.

Dr. Catallozzi and Dr. Beilock said very few Barnard students have sought abortions in recent years. Those who do are usually referred to services affiliated with Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and this relationship will continue. Dr. Catallozzi said she expected some students who live in dormitories to prefer going to the medical center for surgical abortions, which don’t involve the days of bleeding that usually follow taking the pills.

Dr. Catallozzi also said the college wanted to provide the option in case New York’s abortion services are overwhelmed with patients from restricted states. “It makes sense for us to say, ‘Hey, the landscape is changing across the country. Let’s make sure that if necessary, we’re ready,” she said.

In the 2023 academic year, Dr. Beilock will become President of Dartmouth College. When asked if she would recommend that Dartmouth offer abortion pills, Dr. Beilock said, “I look forward to getting to know the Dartmouth community better. Right now, I’m president of Barnard and I’m thinking with our experts about what’s best for Barnard.