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Bill would require Delaware universities to offer abortion medication to students

From the Delaware News Journal: A new bill would require two Delaware universities to offer contraception and medication abortion to students on campus.

Senate Bill 301 would only apply to Delaware State University and the University of Delaware, given that they’re the only schools with a student health center. If passed, the legislation would impact the over 30,000 students who attend both universities.

The legislation comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, which overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in 2022. Despite the ruling, abortion remains legal in the First State with the legislature passing a law to protect people’s right to access an abortion in 2017.

A few colleges nationwide already offer the abortion pill with California passing a similar law in 2019, requiring the state’s public universities to offer medication abortion by 2023.

The bill would reduce barriers to reproductive health care for college-age people and improve access on university campuses, supporters say. The legislation would mitigate the economic and transportation challenges that students face in receiving abortion care, according to the bill’s primary sponsor, State Sen. Kyle Evans Gay (D-Talleyville).

“It’s really important to ensure that college campuses here in Delaware are serving their students with reproductive services that meet those full needs,” Gay said. “This is a very specific population that I think sometimes is overlooked.”

Critics argue that the legislation is an overextension of services that are already available on or near campuses. While opposed to abortion as a whole, critics contended that resources would be better spent on improving health care access for pregnant or parenting students instead.

“It’s just death-on-demand in Delaware,” said Moira Sheridan, board president for Delaware Right to Life, an anti-abortion nonprofit. “Why do we need a bill when they dispense emergency contraceptives via a vending machine in the student center at University of Delaware?”

Both universities already offer access to emergency contraception medication, better known as Plan B. The University of Delaware offers it through its medical dispensary, which has been likened to a vending machine and provides over-the-counter medications and a limited number of prescriptions written by the center’s staff practitioners.

Plan B is only effective for up to three days after unprotected sex and isn’t effective in every circumstance, though. Providing access to abortion pills like mifepristone would enable students to end pregnancies up to 70 days after conception without having to undergo a more significant abortion procedure.

For some, however, the funding and efforts would be better suited to supporting young parents.

“Delaware families would be better served if our legislators focused on accommodating students who are parenting, assisting crisis pregnancy centers and helping the poor and vulnerable,” said Robert Krebs, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, in a written statement.

Mara Gorman, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Delaware, pointed to the various efforts to restrict abortion access across the country as reasoning for the bill. Arizona recently reinstated and subsequently repealed a near-total ban on abortion dating back to 1864.

“Take a look at the rest of the country and you’ll see why legislation is needed,” Gorman said. “We basically view this as an important step forward in terms of everyone in Delaware getting the care that they need.” It would be wonderful for lawmakers to not have to increase abortion access through legislation but it’s necessary because of the way that abortion care has been segmented off from health care, Gay said.

The bill is an effort to “rewrite” what the expectations are about the ability to access abortion care in Delaware, she added. “We are now having to legislatively reintegrate abortion care and the full spate of reproductive health care into what we expect from health care services […] student health is just one aspect of that,” she said.

The fee for an abortion in Delaware can range anywhere from $500 – $791, according to Planned Parenthood, which has a clinic in downtown Newark amid UD’s campus. Even if Planned Parenthood clinics are on or near campus, many students aren’t aware of or don’t seek services from the organization, Gorman said.

The legislation would ensure that even more people receive coverage, she added.

It’s unclear how the legislation would reduce the economic burden of receiving medication abortion on students. End costs for patients is not something that’s mandated in the bill and would be up to the university’s discretion, according to Gay.

There’s no obligation that the medication covered in the bill would be paid by the state and/or Delaware taxpayers, Gay said during a recent Senate Health & Social Services Committee meeting.

Under the bill, a consultation to provide services may be performed by a provider at a student health center, through telehealth services or by a provider who is “associated with a university-contracted external agency.” Gay is working on an amendment to the bill that would only require universities to have a relationship with a community provider, she said during the committee meeting.

“We appreciate the Senator’s willingness to collaborate on language that reflects our current scope of practice at UD’s Student Health Center,” a written University of Delaware statement read. “Our Student Health Center is committed to supporting all students to ensure they receive optimal care from appropriately resourced providers.”

Carlos Holmes, a Delaware State University spokesperson, said that the university is in discussions with the lead sponsor about the legislation.

The bill was reported out of the Senate Health & Social Services Committee on May 22 and is awaiting consideration in the full Senate.

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