Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, removing the constitutional right to an abortion that was in place for nearly 50 years, higher education has been confronted with a post-Roe reality.
As the vast majority of people who seek and get abortions in the country identify as women, Diverse contacted 29 women’s colleges or historical women’s colleges to hear their responses to the news.
Eleven colleges replied by press time with a statement from their president or a leadership official regarding the decision to overturn Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. These colleges included Barnard College (New York), Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania), Cedar Crest College (Pennsylvania), Meredith College (North Carolina), Mount Holyoke College (Massachusetts), Simmons University (Massachusetts - historical women’s college), Smith College (Massachusetts), Sweet Briar College (Virginia), Trinity Washington University (Washington, D.C.), Vassar College (New York - historical women’s college), and Wellesley College (Massachusetts).
“As president of one of the largest women’s colleges in the country, I felt it was important to respond to this change in rights that have stood for nearly 50 years,” wrote Dr. Jo Allen, president of Meredith College, in a statement sent to the campus community the day of the Dobbs decision. “A ruling that defies a woman’s intellect and right to determine what happens to her own body not only delves blatantly into a woman’s privacy but also signals disrespect for her decision-making and careful weighing of all sides of that decision.”
A few days after the Dobbs decision, six presidents of the Seven Sisters wrote a letter to the New York Times that decried the ruling. These presidents were from Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley.
Marina Catallozzi, vice president of health and wellness as well as chief health officer at Barnard College, and Jennifer Rosales, vice president for inclusion and engaged learning as well as chief diversity officer at Barnard, shared that Barnard has “secured an insurance plan and coverage that includes reproductive health and pregnancy termination services.” The college is in New York, where abortion remains legal.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson will have an impact on the human rights of all who identify as women or have the capacity to become pregnant,” wrote Catallozzi and Rosales in an e-mail to Diverse. “An important first step for higher education is knowledge-sharing during such an intense and chaotic time with students, faculty, staff, alums, and parents.”
Catallozzi and Rosales added that Barnard’s community in the fall will be invited to submit proposals for research funding and teaching that “address reproductive health and rights for women, girls, and those who can become pregnant to further activate Barnard’s commitment to supporting reproductive health and justice for all.”
At Trinity Washington University, a Catholic women’s college that is both a predominantly Black institution and an Hispanic-Serving Institution, Patricia McGuire, Trinity's president, also released a statement to students, faculty, and staff on the day of the Dobbs ruling.
“Overturning Roe now exposes women, their doctors and advocates to newly enacted state laws that encourage citizen surveillance and criminalize not only the act of abortion but medical advice and assistance as well,” wrote McGuire. “This does not help the cause of protecting life and human dignity; women will suffer and die as a result of this decision, particularly those women who lack economic security.”
McGuire said that many Trinity students are mothers and the primary caregivers in their families. The majority of Trinity students are also women of color. Scholars point out that abortion bans and severe restrictions are most likely to hurt women of color, particularly poor women of color, who often seek to end a pregnancy for economic reasons.
McGuire's statement also touched on the institution’s identity as a Catholic institution. “We should strive to build a society in which abortion is rarely, if ever, necessary,” she wrote. “But pitting the right to life of the unborn against the rights of women will solve nothing, and in fact, takes this nation even farther away from a real consensus about how to protect all life and human dignity.”
Dr. Elizabeth Meade is president of Cedar Crest College, a women's college in Pennsylvania where abortion remains legal. She weighed in with her reaction to the decision.
“While my college, rightly, has a policy of not taking sides in politics — the college does not officially endorse political candidates and it does not comment on Supreme Court decisions — I deeply regret, and believe personally, that our country will come to regret the fact that a medical procedure has become the subject of legislation and litigation,” wrote Meade in an email to Diverse. “I speak as a philosopher who has engaged over decades on the moral imperative of human autonomy and female agency and who has a deep personal and professional commitment to equity. I speak as the president of a women’s college whose mission revolves around equal access to opportunities for women. I speak therefore in my personal and professional capacity.”
At Massachusetts-based Bay Path University, which has an undergraduate women’s program, the president has not yet issued a formal statement regarding the Dobbs decision. However, Bay Path President Dr. Sandra J. Doran had organized a forum in response to the leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court about overturning Roe in May. Abortion remains legal in Massachusetts.
“Our entire mission is based on the principle that women must have the power to imagine, shape and own their lives,” said Doran in a release announcing that forum to the campus community.
A Bay Path undergraduate voiced her reaction to the end of federal abortion protections — and what that means for the many students today like herself.
“I’ve had conversations with my friends, and we’re all nervous, we’re all scared,” said Diane Almonte Arias, a 20-year-old rising senior at Bay Path. “All my friends want to have kids, but not right now. And is this the world that I even would want to bring my daughter into? One where if I’m not living in the right state, and if my daughter gets a miscarriage, she might not get the right care? Or where she’s too scared to be sexually active and free because of this? A lot of people on campus are watching this heavily — and we’re just hoping for the best. Which is horrible. It shouldn’t be this way.”
Eleven other women’s colleges did not respond to Diverse's requests for comment by press time. An additional four colleges declined to comment -- three confirmed that the institution had not yet released an official statement regarding the Dobbs ruling (Mount Mary University, Notre Dame of Maryland University, and Cottey College).
Rebecca Kelliher can be reached at [email protected].