SACRAMENTO, CA —After months of advocacy by feminist activists and organizations working with college students, the California state legislature last week passed four bills—SB 24, SB 464, AB 963 and AB 59—that together will expand access to abortion care on college campuses, address disparities in maternal health care and increase civic engagement among young voters.
Feminist Majority Foundation, the Women’s Foundation of California, ACLU California, ACCESS: Women’s Health Justice, Act for Women and Girls, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and NARAL: Pro-Choice California all played major roles in making these laws possible—and so did the student activists who mobilized to get them passed by their lawmakers.
“Getting SB 24 to become a law has been my goal for the past year. Working alongside student activists to organize, rally, and speak out has shown me that real change begins with elevating marginalized voices and bringing them to the forefront of the movement. Student led activism is the real driving force behind Senate Bill 24,” said Feminist Majority Foundation Campus Organizer Emily Escobar.
SB 24 passed 55 to 19, with 5 absent voters. The College Student Right to Access Act, if signed by Governor Newsom, would require all on-campus student health centers at public universities and colleges to offer abortion medication to students by January 1, 2023.
Currently, none of the student health care centers at California’s public colleges and universities provide medication abortion services. Students seeking this basic care must travel off campus to access it — often with serious logistical and financial barriers. For low-income students, especially, paying out-of-pocket at a clinic, securing reliable transportation and missing school and work to access timely care are huge obstacles.
SB 464 passed 40 to 0, with all members voting. The Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act aims to reduce pregnancy-related preventable deaths, severe illnesses and associated health disparities by addressing implicit bias among perinatal health providers. In the U.S., at least 700 people die from childbirth each year, and 50,000 more suffer from severe complications. Additionally, in California, women of color, particularly Black women, experience maternal mortality at rates 3 to 4 times higher than white women, and evidence points to implicit bias as the culprit. Specifically, SB 464:
- requires all health care providers involved in perinatal services at hospitals and alternative birth centers to undergo evidence-based implicit bias training through a program that tasks medical professionals with addressing personal, institutional, structural and cultural barriers to access health care;
- requires the California Department of Public Health to track and publish maternal mortality and morbidity rates, including information about the underlying causes and the racial or ethnic identities of patients; and
- adopts the U.S. standard death certificate format regarding pregnancy.
AB 963 — developed in consultation with Feminist Majority Foundation National Campus Organizer Carmen Liñero-Lopez — passed 67 to 7 with 5 absent voters. In an effort to empower a new generation of voters, the Student Civic and Voter Empowerment Act requires all 147 California public colleges and universities to:
- designate one faculty member as a Civic and Voter Empowerment Coordinator who shall convene a committee of relevant administrators, faculty and students to develop a Civic and Voter Empowerment Action Plan for a campus-wide effort to increase civic learning and democratic participation;
- facilitate a minimum of four events each academic calendar year that includes a focus on civic engagement, voter turnout and community building; and
- require all relevant civic and election dates be included on the annual academic calendar and notify students through email and social media of these dates.
And AB 59, also developed in part by Carmen Liñero-Lopez, passed 65 to 11 with 3 absent voters. If signed by Governor Newsom, AB 59 would prioritize the placement of vote centers and satellite elections offices on California university and college campuses, therefore increasing access among young people. Together AB 963 and AB 59 would promote democratic participation and civic engagement of California students — a population of roughly 3 million people.
“Collectively, these bills represent a ground-breaking commitment to voter empowerment and in reproductive justice by the California state legislature. While we celebrate these advancements in access to reproductive health care and civic engagement for communities of color, women, young people, and low-income individuals, we count on Governor Newsom to ensure this bills become law,” Carmen Liñero-Lopez, Feminist Majority Foundation Campus Organizer, said of the passage the bills.