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By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

SGA Senate, reproductive rights advocates push for abortion pills in the SHC

Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor
GW RAGE Co-Presidents Stephanie Spector (left) and Maddy Niziolek (right) pose for the camera.

The Student Government Association Senate unanimously passed a bill Monday requesting the University provide medication abortion in the Student Health Center, increasing pressure on a demand officials have previously denied.

SGA Sen. Caroline Motley (Grad-at-Large), who sponsored the Abortion Justice on Campus Act alongside GW Reproductive Autonomy and Gender Equity, said she is calling on University administrators to listen to the student government and serve as a “pioneer” by demonstrating abortions are normal. The bill requests officials begin providing medication abortion through the SHC at the lowest possible cost and asks the University to commit to prioritizing comprehensive reproductive health care to reduce barriers to access.

Medication abortion is an abortion method that involves taking mifepristone and misoprostol to terminate a pregnancy and accounts for more than half of all abortions in the U.S. Motley said if officials, including University President Ellen Granberg, do not approve their request for the medication in the SHC, the “pressure” will continue to mount, as students made the demand through multiple outlets, including a GW RAGE petition that has garnered more than 1,000 signatures from faculty, students and alumni.

“She has the opportunity to do so, especially because she is the first woman to serve in her role,” Motley said.

Dean of Students Colette Coleman did not return to a request for comment on whether officials would implement medication abortion in the SHC. Members of GW RAGE plastered posters up around campus last week demanding Coleman and Granberg listen to students’ pleas and add medication abortion to the SHC.

The bill’s passage comes as part of a broader national movement to provide increased access to abortion on college campuses after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overturned the landmark case Roe v. Wade that federally protected abortion access.

California and Massachusetts now require public colleges and universities to provide medication abortion on their campuses. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case concerning the restriction of when abortion pills can be prescribed and how patients can receive them, which may impact future access to medication abortion on campuses.

The University of Southern California and New York University are the only two of GW’s 12 peer schools that currently offer medication abortion. NYU’s Student Health Center began stocking medication abortion in September following criticism from student organizations, according to the school’s student newspaper, the Washington Square News.

Northeastern University reproductive justice advocates also launched a petition in October for their student health center to provide medication abortion.

Student Government Association Sen. Caroline Motley (Grad-at-Large) posing with a poster demanding officials add medication abortion to the Student Health Center. (Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor)

Maddy Niziolek, the co-president of GW RAGE, said the organization has been working to request the University offer medication abortion since last April after they saw similar urban schools like Barnard College and USC prescribe students the medication. She said RAGE’s request has been met with “pushback” from administrators because the SHC does not have an ultrasound machine — which officials argue is necessary to prescribe abortion pills — and because students have access to abortions in the District.

Niziolek said RAGE provided administrators with resources and literature from the past decade that shows that ultrasound machines are not needed for medication abortion and that telehealth medication abortion has proven to be safe and effective.

“For a long time, the biggest concern they’ve had is the ultrasound machine, which we have done a lot of work on providing additional resources on what the actual provision of medication abortion looks like,” Niziolek said.

GW RAGE Co-President Stephanie Spector said after the Dobbs decision D.C. has become a “safe haven” for abortion seekers in the South, which has left abortion providers “very overwhelmed” and dramatically increased wait times for appointments. She said there are also a lot of logistical barriers for students who are looking to get an abortion, including financial restrictions, because abortions can cost anywhere from $100 to $500, even with insurance.

“That’s just what students deserve,” Spector said. “There’s just a lot of lack of access in D.C. even given the position we are in with abortion access.”

Eight clinics provide abortions in the District.

Experts in reproductive health care and higher education said access to medication abortion on campuses can be useful to students who are unaware of how to otherwise receive reproductive care because 25 percent of women will get an abortion in their lifetime.

Jessica Waters, an assistant professor of justice, law and criminology at American University, said the resolution is feasible to implement because abortion is legal in the District, but the SHC must be equipped to provide follow-up care since students usually take the medication on their own.

“Typically, there’s a follow-up appointment, just make sure everything went okay,” Waters said. “I don’t see any reason, if the health center is dispensing other types of prescription medications, they wouldn’t be able to do so safely here.”

Waters said the main considerations for an administration implementing medication abortion are costs, safety and student health.

“I would hope, and in my experience, the question that universities are asking is, ‘Is this good for our students? Will our students be safe? Will our students thrive under whatever it is we’re trying to do?’” Waters said.

Jonas Swartz, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University, said college students face challenges in accessing abortions due to a lack of knowledge of state laws, difficulty accessing transportation and socioeconomic status, which is why college campuses can be the best place for students to access reproductive care.

Swartz said medication abortion is becoming an increasingly popular method of abortion due to its safety and efficacy, but navigating insurance payments, training staff to offer counseling and the need for equipment like ultrasound machines are potential hurdles to implementing its access on college campuses.

“We know that it’s safe,” Swartz said. “We know that it’s effective. And we know that among people who are seeking abortion that increasingly, they prefer to have a medication abortion.”

Anne Michels, a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and family medicine at USC, said certain infrastructure is needed on campuses to offer medication abortion including trained staff, ultrasounds and education for students on long-acting reversible contraception methods, such as IUDs and hormonal implants, to aid students in their family planning process.

“You need a lead person familiar with OB-GYN or family planning to create a policy, train providers, have access to the 2 medications, create and implement consent forms, ultrasound if desired and emergency medical services as a backup if needed,” Michels said in an email.

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About the Contributor
Hannah Marr, Assistant News Editor
Hannah Marr is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communication and history from New York, New York.  She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Student Government beat.
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