Why Haven’t Free Contraception Pills Come to the UC?


Andrew Melese

The University Of California, Santa Barbara does not provide contraception pills to women without a written prescription from a licensed physician. Neither does UCSD, UCSC or any other UC.

Many are upset by this, in part due to the fact that in 2013 UC President Janet Napolitano pledged to change this policy after a new state law was passed to allow women to receive contraception pills sans prescription.

Since a significant amount of unintended pregnancies occur during women’s college-age years, this delay in implementation seems counter-intuitive. If not needing to jump through the hoop of receiving annual medical examinations significantly reduces unwanted pregnancies — and as an extension abortions — why doesn’t the UC system make contraception available to any woman who wants it?

This question, left unanswered, leaves one fuming. Why hasn’t UC embraced the intent of the state’s new law? Only in 2016 will the aforementioned statute take effect though it was passed in 2013. After the law’s passage, the state legislature revised and edited the bill to leave it in greatest possible form.

Once again, this law changes a lot — pharmacies will suddenly find themselves able to sell contraception pills to consumers who lack a prescription. Any woman will be able to stride into a CVS or Rite Aid, fill out a brief survey for the pharmacist present and leave the store with contraception pills, patches or whatever other form they desire. The statute’s execution will also mark the first time that UC schools will have the capacity to let the pill be freely accessible.

The new statute marks a paradigm shift not only in women’s rights, but in the management and efficiency of the reproductive facet of our health care system. Prior to this law, UC schools were compelled to follow the formerly prevailing statute requiring women to receive formal examinations and prescriptions for the acquisition of birth control pills — just as any other Californian woman would anywhere in the state.

With that in mind, it would seem the UC is off the hook, at least until late 2016. After that, if the pledge to make contraception pills free and ubiquitous still has not been enacted, the system will truly have a lot to answer for. This increasing access to contraception will not be unique to California or without precedent, as Oregon and Washington have already passed such statutes.

Still, if one is or knows a person who had an abortion or unintended birth while in a UC and is searching for someone to blame for unavailability of ubiquitous contraception, there is one place to point the finger. One could still argue that reprehensible action — or more accurately inaction — was made by the state legislature, which would not execute the bill for three years after passage due to a debate over specific sections of wording within the statute. That is why this bill, passed in 2013, is still not yet in execution and why the UC system is not yet following a pledge made three years prior.

The government dragging its heels in this instance invites one to ponder whether vigorous debate in government should end directly after a bill’s passage or whether it should end only after the greatest possible number of legislators find the bill near their ideal. In this case, for better or worse, it was the latter.

The bill may have ended up in a superior iteration compared to the 2013 version, but at what cost? Between 2013 and 2016, how many women gave birth to a child lacking the maturity, financial security or time to raise at a UC or elsewhere while legislators debated what the pharmacists questionnaire would consist of? It’s a question worth asking.