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At Some Colleges, the Fall of Roe Will Weaken Student Health Care

On June 24, an independent women’s health center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, received cease-and-desist orders from the state’s attorney general for its abortion services. The order came immediately after the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, overturning Roe v. Wade. The clinic’s operations manager told local news that her team spent that day canceling more than 100 appointments. The clinic sits right across the road from the University of Alabama and was one of only three providers in the state. As a new school year begins on college campuses across the country, many students will move to states that promise them fewer rights now than when they applied to school last winter, or when they accepted enrollment offers this spring. On some of those campuses, health centers—fearing legal consequences for their staffers—will likely roll back what they can offer students, both in terms of care and information about how to access abortion services or pills elsewhere. Some health advocates worry that the chilling effect may even spread to conveying general information about birth control and sexual health. Content This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from. “It’s going to have devastating effects,” says Gillian Sealy, chief of staff with the nonprofit Power to Decide, which advocates for reproductive rights. “In many instances, this is the place that a young person might go to get their health needs met.” Unplanned pregnancies diminish the likelihood that a student will continue their education. So having the power to choose is paramount, she says. But the Dobbs decisi on may leave students without that power. Ten states currently ban abortion. Another four ban procedures after the six-week mark, before many people realize they’re pregnant. In some of these states, including Texas and Alabama, students who depend on their college for health care already had to journey off campus to access abortion care. Now, students may face the even heavier burden of traveling out of state, forcing them to miss class, work, assignments, and exams. Health advocates are especially worried about how state bans might affect young survivors of assault. “We know that the first month of college, rates of sexual assault are really high. And pregnancies do result from that,” says Carrie Baker, a professor of gender studies at Smith College in Massachusetts who studies social justice movements and the law. “So I think about that first-year student who's 18, goes to college, experiences assault, and ends up pregnant. She's in a state that bans abortion. That's kind of a worst-case scenario.” And there are other awful scenarios: Young people who are away from family and trusted health care providers may be vulnerable to misinformation. Those who try to find help online may be tracked and criminalized based on personal information they’ve entered on the wrong website or app. Activists and aid organizations are scrambling to get useful information out—and discovering the limits of how they can help. “Everybody's very afraid,” says Baker. “And that, of course, is by design, because they want to try to kill any sort of help that people might be wanting or willing to give.”

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