By Carley Crain
On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established abortion as a constitutional right. That means abortion is no longer federally protected in the United States.
For college students across the country, this news was hard to process. However, Massachusetts has recognized the right to an abortion under its state constitution. Still, the ROE Act, which was passed in 2020, has two significant restrictions: a parent/guardian must consent to a patient’s abortion if the patient is under 16 years old, and abortions over 24 weeks are only allowed “in cases of life or health endangerment or there is a lethal fetal anomaly.”
Under Bill H.5090, which was passed in July, students who attend public universities and colleges in the state of Massachusetts will now have access to medication abortion pills either at campus health centers or through outside resources. Each public university in Massachusetts must submit a plan for providing services to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health by November of next year. At some smaller, private institutions, such as Springfield College, health care providers may refer students to outside organizations such as Planned Parenthood.
The Department of Public Health will have to review these plans by 2024. Colleges that do not have advanced health centers will have to create a plan for students to receive abortion care elsewhere. Health centers that do not have staff trained in reproductive care will have to receive this type of education.
Around 50-115 public Massachusetts college students receive medical abortions every month, and even more, once private university students are added to the mix.
According to Boston.com, unintended pregnancies are most common among college-aged students. This is due to many reasons, including; not taking contraceptives properly, having unprotected sex and sexual assaults.
At Springfield College, medical abortion pills are not available to students, and will not be in the foreseeable future according to the director of the Health Center Kathleen Hogan-Soltys. On-campus health center staff members are not trained in gynecology, and can only prescribe birth control and perform pap smears.
“That would be something out of our scope of practice as providers who do not specialize in OBGYN services,” explained Hogan-Soltys, when asked about the possibility of medical abortion pills being accessible to students on campus.
If a student is pregnant and wants to receive an abortion, they would have to travel to Planned Parenthood off campus. The closest Planned Parenthood is 5.6 miles away and is about a 14-minute drive. Planned Parenthood works with each individual and accommodates the cost of their care to direct income.
Springfield students, however, are in a unique situation compared with other colleges, as the closest Planned Parenthood location is less than six miles away. This is not the case most of the time, as The National Library of Medicine reports that “nearly one-fifth of U.S. abortion patients traveled more than 50 miles one-way and the most common reason reported for clinic choice was that it was the closest.”
Students who are originally from states where abortion is now illegal can still get one in Massachusetts since they are students at Springfield College.
If a student does not have access to transportation or is struggling financially, resources are available through different departments on campus, such as with the Student Affairs or Title IX offices.
“Any student who comes to the Health Center, we find a way to help them get the resources they need to get to medical appointments. There are a lot of resources available on a case-to-case basis,” Hogan-Soltys said.
A student who chooses to carry a pregnancy to term can receive prenatal care at the Health Center and then be referred to an off-campus OBGYN. Additionally, at Springfield College, a student’s health insurance is only billed if lab tests are required. Pregnancy tests are free to all students, as well as different types of condoms. STI tests can be conducted as well on campus but they are billed to a student’s health insurance.
The Health Center can prescribe birth control pills to students, and when used effectively they are over 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy according to NHS.Uk. If a student is interested in a long-term method of birth control, like Nexplanon or an IUD, they would have to be referred to Planned Parenthood or an off-campus OBGYN.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most contraceptives are required to be free under all insurance plans, and students who attend Springfield College are required to have some type of health insurance.
Plan B, a very effective type of emergency contraceptive, is also available for only $20 at the Health Center, which is a fraction of the cost compared to outside pharmacy rates.
If a student makes the decision to terminate a pregnancy, the Health Center offers emotional support throughout the entire process, as well as at the counseling center.
Even with the end of Roe v. Wade, Springfield College students still have options when it comes to their reproductive rights – and have the ability to make whatever decision they feel is best for them.
Photo: Springfield College