Higher ed leaders largely decried the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, with some campus leaders pledging to support their students and employees in obtaining abortions.
The Supreme Court’s decision overturned nearly a half-century of precedent that gave people in the U.S. the right to an abortion until a fetus became viable outside of the womb.
At least 13 states either immediately banned abortion access after the decision or will do so in a couple of weeks because of so-called trigger laws, according to U.S. World & News Report. Another 13 states are expected to restrict abortion access in the near future.
With over half the country experiencing or expecting a decrease in medical care options, colleges and other higher ed-affiliated organizations released statements about the news.
‘Worthy of righteous anger’
University of California President Michael Drake called the Supreme Court’s decision antithetical to the university system’s mission and values.
“We strongly support allowing individuals to access evidence-based health care services and to make decisions about their own care in consultation with their medical team,” he said in a statement. “Despite this decision by the Court, we will continue to provide the full range of health care options possible in California, including reproductive health services.”
Drake, a physician, also expressed concern that the court’s decision will endanger lives and lead to the removal of other rights.
“It is worthy of righteous anger,” said Kathryn Lybarger, president of the University of California’s largest employee union, AFSCME Local 3299.
In a statement, Lybarger lambasted the Supreme Court’s decision as an “appalling and misogynistic act of judicial activism” and said the union’s 30,000 workers would continue to fight for bodily autonomy.
Lybarger and others said the ruling will disproportionately harm women and people of color.
“Like the malignant extremism trying to erase Black history and Black votes, trample the rights of our LGBTQ+ siblings and build walls around our country, it subverts the principles of dignity and equality that have guided our nation’s pursuit of a more perfect union for more than two centuries,” she said.
The leadership of Wellesley College, a historically women’s private nonprofit, called the decision a seismic shift away from gender equity.
“History has shown that some women will be forced to give birth against their will,” said a statement from Wellesley President Paula Johnson. “Some will have illegal and potentially dangerous abortions. Some will die. A disproportionate number of the women directly impacted will be poor; a disproportionate number will be Black and Latinx. In the United States, support for women who do give birth is woefully inadequate, and this decision occurs within that context.”
Johnson, also a physician, said abortion access does not appear to be under immediate threat in Wellesley’s home state of Massachusetts, but many out-of-state students come from states facing immediate or imminent restrictions. Wellesley’s health services plans to continue giving students a pathway to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion.
Disproportionate effect on Black community feared
Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell said in a statement that the overturning of Roe v. Wade will have far-reaching implications for women and society as a whole, highlighting the disproportionately high maternal mortality rates among Black women.
Spelman is a historically Black women’s college in Atlanta. Georgia is awaiting a court ruling on a proposed ban that would outlaw abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.
“For decades women, including Black women, have been key drivers in the upward mobility of our nation from voting rights to labor, education and health reforms, because of their ability to make choices about every aspect of their lives,” said Campbell. “Our struggles are long and hard and, very often, must be fought over and over.”
Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest intercollegiate historically African American fraternity, called the Supreme Court’s decision alarming.
“It sets the stage to undermine other constitutionally recognized individual freedoms, returning us eerily close to the days when so-called states’ rights limited freedom for so many Black and other marginalized communities,” read the statement.
The fraternity said it will push its members to engage at all levels in the upcoming midterm elections.
Harvard, where four of the Supreme Court justices attended law school, declined to directly address the overturn of Roe v. Wade. However, on the same day as the decision, Harvard University’s health services page published a reminder that Massachusetts codified access to abortion services in 2020.
“The decisions patients make will continue to be between them and their healthcare providers and are kept confidential,” read the post.
Southern New Hampshire University will cover travel expenses for any employee who must travel for reproductive healthcare not available in their home state, according to a Friday tweet by President Paul LeBlanc. LeBlanc described the Supreme Court’s decision as a move “to deprive women of their most basic civil rights.”
Support from some
While many higher ed groups decried the reversal of the constitutional right to an abortion, some colleges, including several with religious ties, supported the Supreme Court’s decision.
Liberty University, a private evangelical institution in Virginia, fully supported the ruling, President Jerry Prevo said in a statement.
“The Liberty student body has led the way and marched year after year, prayed on the steps of the Supreme Court, and committed their lives to pro-life causes,” Prevo said. “While this does not effectively end abortion in America, it is a monumental step in the direction of protecting life and placing that decision squarely in the hands of the American people.”
University of Notre Dame, a Catholic university in Indiana, struck a softer tone with its support.
“As a Catholic university, Notre Dame is committed to the sanctity of all human life, and I have for many years joined with others in advocating for the protection of unborn life,” said President John Jenkins in a statement. “We must work with those who share our views and particularly with those who don’t, as we examine the profound and complex moral, legal and social questions involved.”
Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who voted in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, graduated from Notre Dame’s law school and taught there for 15 years.