Hours away from Friday’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationwhich overthrew Roe V. Wade, effectively ending the long-standing constitutional right to abortion, American colleges and universities began issuing official statements about the decision.
The spread of these initial institutional statements reveals much of the same kind of polarization that has come to characterize views on abortion within American society as a whole. Some statements denounced the Supreme Court’s decision. Others applauded him. A few tried to set up a middle ground of apparent neutrality.
Here are some examples.
Statements critical of the decision
University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman was joined by Michigan Medicine CEO Marschall S. Runge in saying that providing safe, high-quality reproductive health care would remain a top priority at the university.
“I strongly support access to abortion services and will do everything in my power as president to ensure that we continue to provide this critically important care,” Colman said in response to Friday’s decision.
She added, “Our campus has more than half of women; we care about our own communities as well as those we serve through clinical care and education. I am deeply concerned about how banning abortion would affect UM’s medical education, our research, and our service to communities in need.
Abortion remains legal in Michigan, and the university’s position was consistent with actions it had already taken in anticipation of a decision to overrule Roe. After a draft Supreme Court opinion leaked last month, Coleman and Runge created a university-wide task force on access to abortion care. This task force studied and planned how an abortion ban would affect clinical care, teaching, and student health at the university.
University of California President Michael V. Drake issued the following very strongly statement:
“For nearly 50 years, citizens of the United States have had the right to make private and informed choices about their health care and their future. I am deeply concerned that today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court takes away that right and will put lives across the country at risk. The decision overturns decades of legal precedent and could pave the way for the removal of other fundamental rights.
The Court’s decision is contrary to the mission and values of the University of California. We strongly support enabling individuals to access evidence-based health care services and to make decisions about their own care in consultation with their medical team. Despite this court ruling, we will continue to provide the full range of health care options possible in California, including reproductive health services, and to strongly advocate for the needs of our patients, students, staff, and the communities that we serve. We will also continue to provide comprehensive education and training to the next generation of healthcare providers and conduct lifesaving research to the fullest extent possible. »
Statements applauding the decision
A number of religious colleges were quick to praise the Dobbs decision.
For example, Jerry Prevo, president of Liberty Universityy, said“Today, on behalf of Liberty University, I want to express our gratitude to Almighty God for the historic decision made in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States. While this does not effectively end abortion in America, it is a monumental step toward protecting lives and placing that decision in the hands of the American people… As President of Liberty University , I am proud that we are now officially training the first generation of Post Roe-v-Wade leaders who will be Champions for Christ continue to defend the lives of mothers and their unborn babies.
speaking for Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic college in Ohio, the president, Father Dave Pivonka was quoted as saying“I am delighted that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe vs. Wade, a decision that hurt the soul of our country. Roe never had a solid legal basis, and I’m glad the judges had the courage to rectify the error and overturn it. I am also well aware that this decision does not mean the end of abortion in our country, and therefore, we who are pro-life still have a lot of work to do, to continue to help mothers in difficult situations and to be instruments healing for those who have lost a child through abortion.
In a message on its campus imploring it to “build a civilization of love”, John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, described the Court’s decision as one that “rejects the unholy idea that there is a constitutional right to kill unborn children”.
Other universities have opted for statements that seem designed to minimize controversy and conflict.
John Jenkins, President of Notre Dame Universityoffered the following reaction:
“As a Catholic university, Notre Dame is committed to the sanctity of all human life, and I have for many years joined others in advocating for the protection of unborn life. We recognize the divisions between people of good will on the issue of abortion and the controversy that has endured in our country for fifty years. I hope that today’s Supreme Court decision, which returns the issue of abortion to voters and their elected officials, will be an opportunity for sober deliberation and respectful dialogue.We must work with those who share our views and especially with those who do not, as we consider moral issues, deep and complex legal and social issues involved. We urge everyone to bring a generous spirit to these discussions and, above all, to strive to establish laws, policies and programs that guarantee equality of women and support for mothers and their children.
University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman released this statement“We know that abortion remains a very controversial issue that directly affects our students. We are reviewing the US Supreme Court decision to determine the impact it may have on our universities. Like others, we will monitor the legal process surrounding this issue and comply with the law as it evolves.
Duquesne Universityit’s official statesmennor did he stray from the middle of the road:
“As a Catholic university founded and driven by the Spiritan tradition, Duquesne’s mission is centered on a strong academic discourse and commitment to all members of our university community. We recognize that today’s Supreme Court decision may have a significant range of impacts on our students, faculty and staff. The University will respond to their needs with compassion and action rooted in our commitment to service and care. All Duquesne students, faculty, and staff should understand that they are safe and protected, regardless of their opinion about it. At the same time, we will respect the Supreme Court ruling and the independent judiciary that made that ruling.
University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson wrote that she would keep her personal views on abortion private, adding that the university should remain “a place for open discussion and respect for differences.”
Yale University and princeton university both said they were analyzing the decision and monitoring legal developments.
Yale President Peter Salovey reassured students that the institution “will continue to follow Connecticut’s Reproductive Rights Law, which ‘preserves the legal right to abortion regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision.'” His statement continued:
“Today’s Supreme Court decision, reversing a landmark decision that has stood for more than forty-nine years, is deeply troubling to many in our community and across the country. At this time, regardless of our personal views, let us treat each other with compassion as we face this new reality together. For those attending rallies or demonstrations, please do so peacefully. »
Princeton said he was “confident that Princeton University health care and benefits for employees and students located in New Jersey are not affected by the decision given current New Jersey law. The University is evaluating the implications of the decision for employees and students outside of New Jersey who receive University health benefits.
Whatever positions they originally held today, quorum leaders are now entering the post-Roe vs. Wade era, where they are sure to face a number of challenges, well described here. For starters, many observers will raise the question of whether it is even appropriate for university leaders to weigh in on one side or the other of this issue.
But many other questions concern how institutions will respond to students in need. For example, how will colleges react to a student facing an unwanted pregnancy? Will they offer him special support, legal advice or financial assistance?
What will campus health centers tell students about their abortion options? Will they add child care so a new mother with a baby can stay in school? And will colleges give or withhold essential information about the range of reproductive health services, especially in states that have criminalized abortion.
And of course, universities must prepare for what is likely to be a new cycle of student protests, debates and frenzy from anti-abortion activists and pro-choice advocates. Abortion rights will be at the heart of the upcoming midterm elections, and party leaders will present abortion as a key rallying cry to mobilize the student vote.