Column: As students lose reproductive rights at home, GW must support them in D.C.

Students who are getting ready to go home for fall, Thanksgiving and winter break this semester may find themselves returning to states that no longer guarantee their reproductive rights. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June ended the constitutional right to abortion, leading states like Texas, Kentucky and Alabama to immediately ban abortion. GW currently offers minimal aid to students in need of reproductive care, but it should provide the appropriate emergency medical services to those who can’t access them at home.

GW students come from all over the country and the world, but those who reside permanently in states with anti-abortion laws could face time in prison if they attempt to get an abortion there or face serious mental and physical injury if legally required to carry a pregnancy to term. To properly support students, GW must offer the abortion pill through the Student Health Center and implement emergency contraceptive vending machines on campus.

Thirteen states have currently banned abortion with little to no exceptions since June, and five states have banned it within various time constraints ranging from six to 14 weeks of pregnancy. More than 4,000 students in 2021 came from states where abortion is now banned to some extent, according to GW’s enrollment data. Take one example – GW’s 247 students from Tennessee, whose trigger law went into effect in August of this year, could face jail time for any attempt to terminate a pregnancy while in their home state.

It’s more important now than ever that both officials and students are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of their community. But the Student Health Center can only prescribe birth control, offer “contraception counseling” and help students obtain emergency contraception if they have the Student Health Insurance Plan. Since not all students enroll in GW’s insurance plan, access to contraceptives through the SHC isn’t available to everyone. Although both of these services are extremely helpful to many students, the University undoubtedly has the money and resources to provide more support for all students.

As a private institution located in D.C., GW isn’t subject to the regulation that public schools in anti-abortion states face. Many student health centers of public universities in Texas have removed any information about terminating a pregnancy from their websites since the state banned abortion in August. But there is no ban or limit on abortion no matter how far along someone is in their pregnancy in D.C., though that may change based on the outcome of the midterm elections.

Higher education institutions like Boston University and Barnard College are miles ahead of GW in terms of reproductive health resources. In March, Boston University joined several other colleges and universities in installing vending machines stocked with morning-after pills. Sold for $7.25 in BU’s vending machines, the pills are much more affordable than pharmaceutical prices nationwide. Low-cost contraceptives are a great way to help college students stay safe, and these machines have become one of the most popular and effective ways for other universities to administer cheaper emergency contraception to their students. GW’s own Student Association has similar plans in the works, but nothing has come to fruition yet.

Besides student-run or University-sponsored emergency contraception vending machines, the Barnard College Primary Care Health Service will begin providing the abortion pill next fall, which individuals can take within 10 weeks of pregnancy to abort a fetus. Offering this pill to students would be a great next step for GW and would prove its desire to ensure the health and safety of its students. Being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term could jeopardize students’ education, so GW should give them accessible options for maintaining their reproductive health to ensure their safety and academic success.

GW has shared a series of articles and Q and A’s with statements from the Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health and other health officials about what the overturn of Roe v. Wade means for anyone who can get pregnant. But these articles had no links to resources or clinics around D.C. where students could turn to if need be. GW’s move to publish several articles about the overturn without including any reproductive resources shows its lack of commitment to its students.

Students enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan can access emergency contraceptives through the SHC and utilize clinics around D.C., including ones close to campus like The Dupont Clinic or Washington Surgi-Clinic on F Street. But in a city like D.C. where abortion is still readily available, GW needs to follow in the footsteps of other progressive universities and student groups who are working to provide reproductive care to protect students’ rights and their ability to access higher education.

The time is now for GW to implement emergency contraception vending machines and offer the abortion pill through the SHC. The thousands of students who come from states that have outlawed abortion are relying on GW as a safe haven for reproductive rights. As students begin to return home for Fall Break and the holidays that follow, the University must make reproductive care accessible – especially when their home state will not.

Grace Erwin, a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication, is an opinions writer.

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