After the Supreme Court struck down statewide abortion rights, colleges in states where the procedure is limited or politically weak face difficult questions:
What happens to students who become pregnant and want an abortion?
Can staff and faculty legally help them obtain it?
Can college funds be used to transport students and staff to states with less restrictive laws?
What can be taught about abortion?
How do colleges prevent pregnant students from dropping out?
Are campus employees’ jobs protected if they express abortion rights or seek abortions?
Colleges are cautious about answering these questions. For the most part, their health centers have been tight-lipped about how they plan to support reproductive health for students in states where abortion is mostly illegal. Some employees and students are not satisfied with the answers or the lack thereof.
At Tulane University in New Orleans, nearly 1,500 faculty, staff, students, alumni and parents signed a letter to the administration in July asking some of these questions and asking the university to take a clearer and more public position that abortion should be a fundamental right. Abortion is now illegal in Louisiana, except in some extreme cases, such as to prevent the death of a patient. The letter’s signatories asked the university to state that “abortion is an essential component of reproductive health care” and that Tulane “supports reproductive autonomy.”
“As a leader in public health and medicine,” they wrote, “it is critical that Tulane demonstrate its commitment to supporting abortion rights and make a definitive public statement about what the research shows.” The letter cited Tulane’s status as an R1 university and a member of the Association of American Universities.
About 200 Tulane faculty members signed another letter in May before the Supreme Court struck down. Roe v. Wade. The letter asked the administration to state what students, faculty and staff could and could not do regarding abortion in Louisiana.
“This is a huge public health issue,” said Stephanie Porras, a professor of art history and one of the letter’s signatories. He worries that students will look to him for instructions on how to get an abortion, but he doesn’t know exactly who can help them.
He said the university should inform students what the law is, especially since many come from states with few abortion restrictions. Tulane has issued two nearly identical statements, one from human resources and the other from the dean of students, saying the university recognized that “abortion is one of the most divisive issues of our time and members of the Tulane community are passionate, deeply felt. held opinions and beliefs.” The statements encouraged students and staff in need of assistance to contact Campus Health, the Counseling Center for students or students, or the University’s Employee Assistance Program for employees.
The statements also said Tulane convened two task forces made up of representatives from campus health, human resources, government affairs and other departments.
“These task forces,” the statements said, “have sought to understand the impact of the ruling and what changes we need to make in response.”
“Planning for Two Extremes”
Several other universities have formed task forces to try to answer some of the many questions about the implications of the court’s decision. Case Western Reserve University announced formation of the reproductive health working group in August and Vanderbilt University was created working group in June.
Dee E. Fenner of Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan Ann Arbor Medical Center and School, knew as early as December that such a group was needed to address some of the many questions that both university and hospital campus leaders needed. to be able to answer. Fenner, chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department, and Lisa Harris, professor of reproductive health, knew that Michigan had a 1931 law on the books that would make abortion illegal except to save the life of a child. pregnant patient.
“We’ve planned for two extremes,” Fenner said. If Roe was overturned, whether the law goes into effect or not, and Michigan could suddenly see a sudden influx of patients from nearby states with bans. “Right now, it’s still booming, so we’re seeing patients from all over the country.”
At the University of Michigan, a task force was created with several working groups to discuss what is Roe would mean for both the campus and the hospital. Fenner said the campus group has sought to mitigate the impact of abortion and reproductive health loss on students and faculty, and to understand the court’s potential impact on health insurance benefits, recruitment, retention and development. A group focused on clinical care has studied the impact on patients and doctors under either scenario – an increase or a ban. Other groups have weighed in on the legal ramifications, the university’s messages to students, staff and the community, and research that should be done to track how changing laws affect access to medical care.
“School just started at the university this week,” Fenner said. “We have held forums, talked to students, talked to professors. What do you need to know? What are you curious about? How does this issue affect you?”
Currently, the 1931 Act does not apply, but this may change. Michigan Republicans on Wednesday blocked efforts to put a referendum on the November ballot that, if approved, would add the right to abortion to the state constitution. The court will probably decide whether the initiative will appear on the ballot, Detroit News reported.
Doctors at Michigan Medicine need to be able to adapt to the moment, Fenner said. When the 1931 law goes into effect, they will have to make quick decisions about whether they can perform an abortion if a pregnant woman comes to the emergency room with bleeding, such as if she needs radiation to treat cancer. At least until the November elections, the task forces will continue to meet.