Politics & Policy

Counting the Costs of Gavin Newsom’s Abortion Pledge

Gavin Newsom speaks to reporters during his 2018 gubernatorial campaign in San Diego, Calif. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
The Finance Department of California opposes a bill that would require public-university health centers to distribute RU-486.

A controversial bill in California has not been the easy win that Governor Gavin Newsom expected. During his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, he pledged to sign into law, the first such in the nation, a bill that would require all 34 of California’s public-university health centers to distribute the RU-486 chemical-abortion pills to students, effectively making all the state’s university health centers into on-campus abortion vendors. The bill’s sponsor has indicated that the goal is to launch this dangerous scheme in California before rolling it out to other states.

The pro-abortion-rights governor holds newly minted pro-choice supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, controlling 76 percent of the Assembly seats and 72 percent of the Senate. He governs a state ranked No. 1 in abortion access by the Guttmacher Institute and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Despite those favorable conditions, however, Senate Bill 24 and its near-identical predecessor, SB 320, have crawled through the statehouse, facing obstacles from the most unlikely of places, because common sense, unknown liabilities, and opposition to the radical policy keep getting in the way. Case in point: Recently the state’s Finance Department released a statement citing its reasons for opposition to SB 24. “The Commission does not have the technical expertise nor existing capacity to develop and administer a program of this size, scope, or content,” the report reads. That concern is entirely understandable, given the unprecedented nature of SB 24.

No state, not even the five other states that receive NARAL’s highest grade for abortion access, have a similar bill under consideration. California’s public universities would be the first public institutions of higher education in the United States to navigate the uncharted territories of fiscal, legal, and medical liability mandated by this bill.

From the Finance Department statement:

This bill would require UC and CSU health centers to establish medical billing systems and develop medical bill expertise. The UC and CSU indicate that campus health centers primarily offer triage and preventative services that have not required the implementation of medical billing systems and development of medical bill expertise because the centers are student fee supported. . . .

Every CSU has a student health center that is supported by student fees; however, CSU students are not required to have health insurance and the CSU does not offer a health insurance plan.

SB 24 would put California student health centers in a difficult position. It would impose billing methods significantly different from those currently used and establish a single policy across two systems with drastically different insurance systems.

What would it cost? It’s hard to say, because “campuses would likely incur unknown ongoing costs to provide 24-hour phone support, support increased campus liability insurance premiums, maintain the facilities, comply with the accreditation requirements associated with providing the expanded services that the student health centers offer, implement medical billing, hire additional staff, and provide enhanced building security.” Also yet unknown but certainly on the horizon: the costs of legal action as health-care workers and students sue to stop the violation of their conscience rights as they refuse to cooperate with on-campus abortion vendors.

But at least it would be “free” to students who use the abortion drugs, right? Wrong. Again, from the Finance Department report: “The CSU notes that students’ out of pocket expenses for the medication and lab costs would be about $500.” That’s a lot of money for students, added to the costs and liability for the schools.

And in the event of severe medical complications, the under-equipped “triage” student centers would refer their female students to off-campus surgical-abortion facilities for emergency services. Yes, you heard that right. These students would be referred to the same off-campus facilities that, according to the SB 24 author, Senator Connie Leyva, are “restrictive in distance”! Note that, in the last legislative session, Jerry Brown, a supporter of abortion rights, vetoed the measure, saying that it was unnecessary given the number of abortion vendors located so close to campuses. He respected the counsel of his administration, the concerns of his universities, and the diversity of his party.

The letter of opposition from California’s Finance Department shows that concerns over SB 24 are not confined to the philosophical and moral disagreements between the pro-life and the pro-choice sides in the abortion debate.

Californians want to be proud our state as No. 1 in tech, agriculture, and entertainment — not No. 1 in publicly funded abortion. We want to be proud of our California universities as “Public Ivies,” not “public Planned Parenthoods.”

Nick Reynosa is Northern California regional coordinator for Students for Life of America.

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