Cal Poly's Health Center. Credit: Carolyne Sysmans | Mustang News

Amid a national debate about abortion access, California has implemented abortion services on its public universities. Four years in the making, the College Right to Access Act represents a change in the way that reproductive healthcare looks for students at Cal Poly and beyond. 

“From the beginning of this project, we wanted it to be accessible. We wanted it to be trauma informed,” Kara Samaniego, Cal Poly’s Assistant Director of Wellbeing, said. “We want people to feel safe coming to this health center and getting the care that they need and they deserve.” 

Senate Bill 24 (SB 24), which is also known as the College Right to Access Act, was approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019, requiring all CSU and UC campuses to offer services to nonsurgical, pill-based abortions in their health centers. These changes were set to be put in place by January 1, 2023.  

By providing abortion services to students, it makes reproductive healthcare accessible to those at universities without a clinic nearby and more affordable. 

According to Planned Parenthood, the average medication-based abortion costs around $580 to $800, but the same services cost between $44 to $80 in the Cal Poly Health Center, according to their website

At Cal Poly, implementation of these services was a delicate process, requiring consideration of many perspectives, Samaniego said. 

After sending out preliminary information through the Chancellor’s Office and reviewing the legislation, Campus Health created teams of students and faculty to provide input on the process. 

“A lot of our implementation process was really working with this team here to understand where we are, what our capacities are and what areas do we need to receive more training in because this was a new service for us,” Samaniego said. 

Creating a service for students meant implementing student perspectives throughout the process. 

“We have a student health advisory committee to make sure that as we move forward with our plans that we aren’t missing anything about the student experience that we really want to make sure is encapsulated,” she said, describing the whole process as “iterative and continuously improving and changing.” 

In addition, faculty conducted studies of student perspectives and resources around abortion and reproductive services on campus. 

Kinesiology and public health associate professor Christine Hackman led this research through surveying a random sample of students on campus. 

“We asked about specific scenarios in which somebody might get an abortion or reasons why somebody might get an abortion and overall, I would say there’s a pretty high endorsement of abortion,” Hackman said. 

Of the students surveyed, approximately only one in five strongly opposed abortion overall. 

However, she noted that among surveyed students, many didn’t have a comprehensive understanding of the reproductive services offered by Campus Health to students. 

“The biggest gap that I’ve seen in terms of education is just simply awareness. If people don’t know that a  service is being offered and where, then that’s a huge problem,” she said.

According to Samaniego, education in this case becomes the most important factor in making health resources accessible to students. Additionally, this can be accomplished by creating an environment on campus which is conducive to open discussion about charged topics. The work of Campus Health and Wellbeing has been centered around this idea.

“We wanted to situate the fact that we offer medication abortion now in a broader reproductive health conversation, with the tenants of that being people’s right to self autonomy over their bodies, the right to parent, the right to not parent, and if you are going to parent, to be able to do so in the safest sustainable communities,” Samaniego said.

More information on Cal Poly’s abortion services can be found on the Campus Health and Wellbeing website