The leaked draft opinion of the Supreme Court’s potential overturn of Roe v. Wade has triggered a mix of shock, anger and frustration among students whose access to safe and legal abortions is essential to their health. The University has yet to communicate its stance on the future of abortion access, leaving students to prepare for a future without Roe and the protections it affords them. As part of their commitment to students’ health and well-being, officials should demonstrate that they unequivocally stand with students who want, need or have already had an abortion.
The Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe established a constitutional right to obtain an abortion, but a majority of justices now seem willing to overturn Roe entirely in their decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which stems from a 2018 Mississippi law that limits abortion past 15 weeks. Doing so would return the issue of abortion to individual states, and while some states have already codified protections for abortions, states like Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Dakota have enacted preemptive “trigger laws” that will automatically ban or severely restrict abortion if the court overturns Roe.
To be clear, Americans still have a right to have an abortion as the court finalizes its decision. If you or someone you know wants or needs an abortion, you can obtain one legally and safely, including in the District. But because D.C. is not a state, the future of legal abortion in the city depends on Congress’ willingness to respect its local laws. A Republican-led bill to ban local funding for abortion in D.C. failed to pass in 2017, but a Republican-held Congress eager to act in the wake of Roe’s overturn could successfully enact legislation that overrides the District’s abortion laws.
Students are in the midst of reacting to the leaked draft opinion, whether at nightly protests and vigils at the Supreme Court or at an abortion clinic on campus that has been the site of previous demonstrations. Beyond physical proximity, abortion access directly impacts students – more than half of people who receive abortions in the United States are in their twenties, within the typical age range of college students. Outright bans or severe limitations on abortion disproportionally affect young people, especially those who are queer, disabled, of color and others who already lack access to healthcare.
Invalidating Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion puts pregnant people – including students – in direct danger of serious bodily harm. Restricting abortion access increases the risk that people seeking abortions will face life-threatening complications from carrying their pregnancy to term if they are unable to terminate it.
Threats to overturn Roe and limit abortion access are no more politically charged than other incidents that interim University President Mark Wrighton and his predecessor have responded to in an official capacity, like the 2020 protests over police killings of unarmed Black people, the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the invasion of Ukraine. Yet Wrighton and officials have so far remained silent about the court’s impending decision. A clear, empathetic and informative statement recognizing that reproductive healthcare is key to students’ health would tell students that they are not alone and that the institutional weight of the University is behind them.
In line with GW’s prior communication on such issues, the University should make it clear that the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of Advocacy and Support and other institutional resources are prepared to provide students with the resources – whether psychological help or financial aid – that they need to navigate the shifting legal terrain surrounding abortion access. The University’s media relations department is providing media interviews with faculty well-versed about the issues surrounding abortion rights, and it should make this wealth of knowledge available for students looking for succinct explanations on the state of reproductive healthcare in the United States.
Officials should also publicly recognize that the future of Roe and abortion access is in danger. They don’t need to join a picket line, but they must demonstrate a degree of empathy with students concerned about their access to reproductive healthcare. GW must make one thing clear – its students currently have a right to safe and legal abortions, and that right is fundamental to their health.
Until the University takes action, protesting at the Supreme Court and donating time and money to local abortion clinics are means for students to advocate for their own and others’ right to an abortion. They can also volunteer to drive people to their appointments or house them if they need to travel out-of-state for their procedure. And as students discuss abortion among their peers or at protests, they should be cognizant of the fact that not only people who identify as women need or want abortions. The overturn of Roe would be especially impactful for members of the LGBTQ+ community because it could signal the court’s willingness to hear challenges to Americans’ other rights, including marriage equality.
The University’s silence is a disservice to students reckoning with a dangerously real threat to abortion access. A statement on behalf of the University can cut through complex legal analysis, shifting students’ attention from the decision of five justices to their own physical and emotional health. For the University to take a stance supporting its students with the force of its institutions and resources would be well in line with its proud tradition of activism.
The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by opinions editor Ethan Benn and contributing opinions editor Riley Goodfellow, based on discussions with research assistant Zachary Bestwick, sports editor Nuria Diaz, copy editor Jaden DiMauro, culture editor Clara Duhon, design editor Grace Miller and contributing social media director Ethan Valliath.
This article appeared in the May 9, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.