Students and activists rally on campus for reproductive rights in states that ban abortion

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Students and activists returning to campus for the first post-Roe school year are already planning a counterattack in states where abortion has been banned or severely restricted.

They are preparing with emergency contraceptives, condoms, pregnancy tests, voter registration campaigns and – if possible – information on access to abortion in response to the removal of the constitutional right to the procedure.

“We have to do what we legally can to help people as much as possible,” said Nikita Kakkad, a student at the University of Texas at Austin and a reproductive rights activist. “It is important to do this now more than ever.”

Texas is one of more than a dozen states that have banned or severely restricted abortion procedures after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The state had already passed a law in 2021 that effectively banned abortions around six weeks pregnant, and its “trigger law” banning nearly all abortions and increasing penalties for performing, inducing, or attempting an abortion is expected to come into effect. effective August 25.

Nikita Kakkad.Courtesy of Nikita Kakkad

Kakkad, who also serves on the student council of the American Society for Emergency Contraception, focuses most of her efforts on preventing pregnancy on the college campus of more than 50,000 students. She plans to hold events to educate students about reproductive health services and help provide free Plan B, the emergency contraception medication taken to prevent pregnancy. The American Society for Emergency Contraception has also advocated for campuses to install emergency contraception vending machines to increase access and affordability for students.

“I think just really getting it into people’s hands before something goes wrong, rather than scrambling to meet demands after something goes wrong, is going to be really important,” Kakkad said. .

Still, she said, contraceptives don’t negate the need for abortion, and she hopes talking about reproductive health activism and access to abortion can help students who Are afraid.

“I think it’s become really urgent to talk about it. I’m not breaking the law by saying the word ‘abortion.’ Let’s promote information on how you can cross state lines to get abortions, whatever we can do,” she said.

Women in their twenties accounted for more than half of abortions in the United States in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research shows that forcing some women to carry unplanned pregnancies to term affects their education, career advancement, earning power, and ability to create wealth.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, only 8% of single mothers graduate from college within six years of enrolling, compared to about half of women who are not mothers. Single mothers who are college students were also significantly more likely to live in or near poverty, with 88% having incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, according to the institute.

The impact of women’s equality and labor force participation also costs states and the nation economically, the institute said, finding that state-level abortion restrictions cost state economies. $105 billion a year, “by reducing labor force participation and income levels and increasing turnover.” and leave for women aged 15-44.

Since Roe’s fall, there’s been an influx of college students seeking to get involved in reproductive rights, said Tamara Marzouk, director of youth abortion access at the nonprofit Advocates. for Youth.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, there were 500 to 600 people in the group’s Youth Abortion Support Collective, a network of young people formed to educate and support their community’s abortion and defense of abortion.

“Overnight, we had 150 young people joining our collective or applying to join the collective. And since then, we are now close to 900,” she said. “Tons of young people are showing up and trying to really support each other and learn more about how they can connect, both in their communities and on a larger scale as well.”

Nimisha Srikanth, a senior at Texas A&M University and chair of the Feminists for Reproductive Equity & Education group, said her group would increase its advocacy, with a “primary focus” on providing sexual health resources.

“We’re really going to try to amplify that and promote it more, because always after Texas did something related to reproductive health, we saw an increase in plan B requests,” Srikanth said.

“If you are a student, you can contact us. We’ll give you a plan B, condoms, pregnancy tests, other reproductive health products that people might need to maintain that bodily autonomy,” she said.

Srikanth said the group will also provide volunteer opportunities and plans to hold a voter registration drive in the fall to register people for the midterm elections.

“Our big goal is to provide more advocacy events, provide more information to students affected by these issues, and of course, to maintain our resource services,” she said.

Still, she acknowledged that the new legal landscape after Roe’s overthrow will make it important to continue providing services and other aid while staying within the bounds of the law.

“We’re doing our best to continue to help the community, to empower the community, but without getting sued or maybe those looking for help,” she said.

While there has been greater student involvement in reproductive rights issues since the Supreme Court ruling, responses from the colleges themselves have been varied depending on factors such as location and membership. by gender of the student body, with some opposing or supporting the decision and others. adopting a more neutral position.

For example, some conservative colleges celebrated the decision, while some colleges in states with abortion protections spoke out strongly against the decision, and many others said they were evaluating the decision and its impact on their campus.

In Indiana, medical students Lucy Brown and Sydney DiGregory were careful to note that they were speaking only for themselves and not for their school, Indiana University School of Medicine.

“We’re just medical students in Indiana who are worried about how the state has treated us,” Brown said. “It’s been really demoralizing to see how the state and government treats OB-GYNs and doesn’t really value their opinions.”

This month, Indiana became the first state to approve a near-total ban on abortion following the Supreme Court ruling. The new law, which will come into effect on September 15, severely restricts abortion with limited exceptions when the pregnant person’s life is in danger, in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities and, in some cases, rape or incest.

On August 9, in response to the ban, the Indiana University School of Medicine said in a statement that it had worked hard to prepare “for the changes that new legislation regarding health care reproduction will bring to our patients, faculty, residents, students and staff.” But the dean, Jay Hess, provided a few more details.

“It has been a difficult summer, with the uncertainty of the impact of this legislation on our mission at IU School of Medicine weighing heavily on many of your minds,” Hess said in the statement. “But the passion and commitment I’ve seen from so many of you to continue training future healers and providing life-saving care in Hoosiers makes me believe we’re up to this challenge.”

The ban has shocked some medical students who provide reproductive health services to Indiana women.

“We’re cleaning up the mess our legislators have made,” said Brown, a fourth-year student. “We can’t go back and change the law that has been passed, but we can somehow prevent people from being directly affected by it.”

“I’m just dreading that moment when a patient comes after Sept. 15 and I have to say, ‘Sorry, we can’t do anything for you,'” said Brown, who is also president of a women’s health clinic. at University.

Brown said student groups are also teaming up to increase free access to contraceptives, including long-acting birth control like IUDs, and to educate students about their options.

Pictured: Sydney DiGregory and Lucy Brown.
Sydney DiGregory and Lucy Brown.Courtesy of Lucy Brown

DiGregory, who is also a fourth-year student, said when the Supreme Court decision was released, she was minutes away from getting a patient into the operating room for an abortion procedure due to fatal fetal abnormalities.

The attending physician “had tears streaming down his face. The nurses we were with, we all just had a moment of silence. Kind of like a shocked, stunned silence,” said DiGregory, who is also president of the OB-GYN student interest group at the university.

“Every patient we’ve been able to serve since, it’s been like, OK, one more. We can help one more patient, and that meant even more for every person we could provide the services to,” a- she declared.

Image: Healthcare workers and abortion rights supporters demonstrate following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade outside a public hospital in Indianapolis on June 29, 2022.
Healthcare workers and abortion rights supporters protest overturning of Roe v. Wade in Indianapolis on June 29.Courtesy of Lucy Brown

As more states consider abortion restrictions, campus advocacy will become even more important in states with upcoming abortion rights ballot measures, said Margaret Velto, coordinator of awareness of the Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Kentucky had a near-total ban on abortions after the state’s trigger law went into effect with the Supreme Court ruling. But in November, the state will vote on a proposed amendment to its constitution to add the language “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as guaranteeing or protecting the right to abortion or requiring the financing of abortion”.

“That one is going to be a huge priority to let people know about it,” Velto said. “Because it would make any further attempt to legalize abortion in Kentucky virtually impossible.”

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