Abortion through Columbia Health Services

1) Dear Alice,

My boyfriend and I are both still young and we don't believe in bringing a child into this world without being able to support it financially and without being able to spend as much time with it as we would like. Furthermore, neither one of us could give our child up for adoption. Thus, the only solution for us would be to abort the fetus. We have practiced safe sex EVERY TIME although we are in a completely monogamous relationship.

My question then is how does one go about getting an abortion? Does Health Services perform the procedure or do they refer out? Are the referrals that Health Services make to good doctors or are they some Joe Schmoe doctor who's just cheap? How much does such a procedure cost? Does insurance pay for the procedure and if so, can parents tell from the insurance company that their child had an abortion? If parents can find out from insurance itemization, can you pay in cash? What type of forms do you need to present before the doctor will perform the procedure in the first place? Thank you.

Trying to help others with pregnancy and abortion anxieties

2) Dear Alice,

Does Health Services provide referrals to clinics for those interested in abortion procedures? Do you recommend any specific one based upon their positive attitudes towards women and their expertise?

Dear Trying to help others with pregnancy and abortion anxieties and Reader #2, 

You ask questions that many students are wondering, should they need an abortion in the future.  You may find it reassuring if you do practice safer sex—using protection, be it a condom or other form of contraception, for every act of penetrative sex—the chances of getting pregnant are much lower. And, sometimes things happen, and there's always that fluke of nature. Columbia Health, specifically health care providers at Medical Services on the Morningside campus don’t provide pregnancy termination services, but they do and can make referrals to health care providers and clinics throughout New York City that do. The health care providers that on-campus providers make referrals to (for any health condition) aren't Joe Schmoe doctors, but reputable health care providers and clinics (including Columbia Doctors) that have been checked out personally by the Columbia staff. Many of these health care providers work with Columbia students regularly and understand their needs. Medical Services maintains lists of referrals with many options so that students may choose a provider based on their needs and preferences. 

As you or your friend follow up on a referral, one thing to be mindful of is your instincts when talking with clinics and providers' offices over the phone. If you don't feel comfortable with the way you're treated when asking questions or making an appointment, the likelihood is that you won't feel better when you actually go to the clinic. Similarly, if you make an appointment, go into the office, and then feel wary, it is always your right to leave and reschedule with a different provider. You may have to pay a missed appointment fee, but you won't have to pay the whole charge for the procedure. 

A student may have coverage for pregnancy termination through their health insurance program. Students enrolled in Columbia University’s student health insurance plan will have coverage for pregnancy termination. Though students are required to be enrolled in the student plan or demonstrate comparable coverage, not all comparable plans provide coverage for this service, so it's key to check what your plan covers before making an appointment. Most health insurance plans outline covered services on their websites. Keep in mind that regardless of the insurance used, there may be additional costs associated with a procedure, and those often fall on the patient. More often than not, the full fee must be paid in advance, usually by check or credit card, and then the student will get reimbursed by the insurance company. 

If a student chooses to utilize benefits from a non-Columbia insurance plan, and they're concerned about parents, guardians, or a partner finding out about their health care needs, they may consider speaking with the provider performing the abortion about their situation before having the procedure done. There are some requirements associated with state laws that govern the confidentiality of health information for minors, that said it can be important to ask situation-specific questions of the provider in advance. For more information regarding reproductive health, consider checking out the Go Ask Alice! Sexual and Reproductive Health Archives

Students needing abortion services who prefer not to activate their private insurance for confidentiality reasons may choose to make an appointment to talk with a health care provider at Medical Services(Morningside) Medical Services about lower-cost clinics and options in New York City. There are a number of options available, including those where costs are determined with a sliding-scale fee based on income. 

An assessment and referral by a health care provider at Medical Services isn't necessary to access pregnancy termination coverage, but it's encouraged. This way, the student has the opportunity to discuss their options, get a referral to a trusted health care provider, follow-up on-campus as needed. All health care services at Columbia are confidential. Many medical situations carry much weight, but hopefully insurance details won't add to the situation. Continue to ask questions and explore your options and available resources to best meet your health needs. 

Last updated Jul 21, 2023
Originally published Mar 19, 1994

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