Massachusetts approves Bill to allow medication abortion access in public universities
Updated: Feb 9
By Sophia Harris
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed Bill H.5090 in July 2022, making the state the second, after California, to ensure that students enrolled in public universities have access to medication abortion.
The bill also requires public university health centers to implement abortion readiness plans.
The bill is an act expanding protections for reproductive and gender-affirming care, according to the website for the Massachusetts legislature.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, a Democrat representing Massachusetts' 1st Hampshire District.
Sabadosa said this bill ensures any student in Massachusetts who is attending a public higher education institution has access to an abortion readiness plan provided to them through their on-campus health center.
She said, “All of the legislation was really to expand access. That was the primary focus. That seems always to be my primary focus. We want to make sure that when people are seeking health care, they're able to obtain that health care.”
She added by expanding access to safe and accessible abortion care, the result will be to reduce the stigma concerning abortion.
“Abortion is a topic that is often very stigmatized. And it has been for many decades. I think the important thing that we can do if we're going to expand access is to reduce stigma - actually have conversations about abortion and what access looks like in different parts of the state,” she said.
Sabadosa said the bill created a requirement for health centers to have a plan in place to access abortion resources.
She said, “It's required that there's a plan but as to what that plan is, that is up to DPH [Department of Public Health] and the school to come up with together.”
She said although it is not required for universities to stock medication abortion pills at their health centers, schools such as UMass Amherst have already started carrying the pill on campus as part of their abortion readiness plan.
She said some schools “may not ever provide the pills right on campus.
“It doesn't necessarily have to require it is being provided on campus, so your doctor does not necessarily have to be a prescriber,” she said.
Sabadosa said the schools might instead “just provide abortion readiness plans,” adding that those plans might look different from campus to campus.
Some options for an abortion readiness plan include using telehealth, mail-in medication, and identifying a preferred doctor close to campus to whom the health center can refer students.
She said, “We want to make sure that each campus is doing what makes the most sense for them and their students in order to provide really good access.”
Sabadosa said the Department of Public Health is the overseeing authority to ensure that public higher education adopts abortion readiness plans.
She said the only scrutinization the bill received, other than from anti-abortion advocates, was lobbying to ensure the bill provided the flexibility needed to allow each school to design its own abortion readiness plan.
Sabadosa said, “The only pushback that we received was really about making sure that this was right-sized to the schools, so that we weren't just saying every school must offer medication abortion, end of story. That can work on a big campus.”
She added, “If your health services are only open a few days a week, and there are some schools where services are not open very often, then that's not a realistic plan.”
Sabadosa said she would like to see health services improved across all campuses, and this bill is part of how the services will be bolstered.
“But until we're fully there, we can't possibly require things at schools that they are unable [to provide],” she said.
The idea for this bill was raised by a group of students at UMass Amherst in 2017 who were following similar legislation being passed in California.
She said the bill was first brought to the legislature in 2019 and eventually passed in 2022.
“I really fell in love with a bill that was a thing that I wanted to work on, and I really wanted it to pass, but it wouldn't have come to me if students hadn't brought the idea,” she said.
She emphasized, “It's important for people who are reading your newspaper to understand that you can have an idea and bring it to a legislator or run for office yourself and effectuate that change because all of the best legislation comes from real people and real stories. It doesn't come from people just thinking up things in the middle of the night.”
Sabadosa said the legislation covers additional needs as well, including providing protections for providers, making emergency contraceptives in vending machines accessible, and clarifying the regulations around that access.
She said the legislation also eliminates cost-sharing for abortion and abortion-related care.
Sabadosa added the “bill also provided funding for this to be set up” through the state.
“We made it very clear within the legislation that we just created a fund that's managed by DPH and the Department of Higher Ed. We're working to put money into that now so that when schools have expenses, we can help cover those. We don't expect the expenses to be astronomical, but we want to make sure we're not imposing unfunded mandates,” she said.
Sabadosa added, “In this last bill that we passed, we also eliminated all cost-sharing for abortion care, so there's no deductible, no copay. So it makes it really inexpensive for students.”
Currently, a position is open for a DPH liaison to work with colleges to implement the legislation.
“We have moved past the point of this just as being theoretical, and now, we're trying to make sure that we're doing something that's smart, safe, and well thought out. And so we want to work very closely with college campuses,” she said.
Ilene Hofrenning, director of Framingham State’s Health Center, said the center currently provides pregnancy tests, options counseling for students in regard to abortion, and emergency contraceptives.
Hofrenning said, “If they [students] do decide that they want to have an abortion, then we give them information about where to get an abortion.”
She added there are three locations she refers students to and they are all “fairly close.”
She said the Health Center does not carry the abortion pill on campus.
Hofrenning said she is waiting to hear from the DPH about the rules and regulations they are setting up and what is expected from colleges and universities.
She added she thinks “it's really good that Massachusetts is taking a stand and … removing barriers to access for college students. And we're happy to do whatever we can to assist in that.”
Pamela Pereira, a senior with majors in sociology and biochemistry, is a member of the Massachusetts Student Advisory Board. The group is comprised of students from various public universities in Massachusetts, and the group’s goal is to “help ease the transition of medical abortion on campus.”
Pereira said she is meeting with other students across Massachusetts public universities to discuss plans for the medication abortion pill implementation.
She said at their last meeting Nov. 7, she met with students from UMass Boston, UMass Amherst, and Worcester State. She said students from all three schools learned about how medication abortion works and how beneficial it is to be carried on campus.
“We learned what students need - we heard stories of people who went through it [abortion] and what they needed from the institution,” she said.
Pereira said she also went to the Health Center and met with Hofrenning and Pam Lehmberg, coordinator of wellness education. She said she then got an insight into “how we function and what we need.”
She said her goal as part of the Massachusetts Student Advisory Board is “advocacy, prevention, and general knowledge about these resources that we have available if they need it. And making the Health Center more welcoming toward students, and students can go there and feel welcomed and talk about their issues and have a plan if they want to go forward without feeling judged.”
Pereira said this bill is an essential part of healthcare for students.
“I thought it was very important because students are on campus and you're away from home and you don't know what your options are and how to get there. If something like that happens, you want to feel that you're safe and have support from the administration - from the Health Center - and you're not alone. That's the biggest part. You don't want to feel alone because it is a big decision. But making that decision, and having a plan, and having support at all angles - no matter if you go through with it or if you don't - and making it [the decision] easy. I think it's super important,” she said.
Pereira said an event will be held on Feb. 6 at 2:00 p.m. in the Alumni Room called Reproductive Justice. The goal of the event will be to educate students on reproductive rights and what support looks like.
Abby Kalinowski, a senior studio art major, said everyone should have the resources they need.
She added she thinks the medication abortion pill should be provided on campus.
“I think they should carry it for those who need it and if people don't want it, then that's their choice,” she said.
Laura Abreu, a junior elementary education major, said this bill's timing is crucial due to Roe v. Wade being overturned in June 2022. “This is something that we definitely need. I feel like a lot of women were scared when things were happening in June and prior to that, and I think that this is what we need,” she said.
Abreu said it is important to carry the medication abortion pill on campus because “I think no matter if you're pro-life or pro-choice - everyone should be able to make their own decisions.”
A student who asked to remain anonymous said they are in full support of the bill.
“Students, especially when you're in a high-stress environment, and so many other people of the same age, it is important to have that support and that option, when in reality, most people feel like they can't go to doctors or health care professionals or seek health in general,” they said.
They added they would like to see the medication abortion pill available on FSU’s campus. “I think that it's really important to have that safe option because I feel like if people don't have the safe option, they always opt for something more dangerous.”
Patrick McGonagle, a senior psychology major, said he is also in support of the bill.
“I think that it's greater access to abortion, which gives women a greater ability to choose when and where to have one because medicated-based abortion seems to be far less invasive ... And so I think having greater access to it is good. I'm glad to hear that Massachusetts is on the right side of history on this one,” he said.