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Wednesday, December 07, 2022
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‘Heartbroken’: Students and faculty reflect on overturning of Roe v. Wade, weigh on-campus reproductive care and expanded abortion access

UB falls short of on-campus medical abortion access as reproductive health battle sweeps college campuses, upcoming elections

Citizens protest the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in NYC this summer.
Citizens protest the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in NYC this summer.

Dior Gillins’s heart dropped. 

The TV buzzed, idling on the news channel. Summer was well underway — over a month had passed since a leaked draft of the case made its rounds in May, but Gillins still froze at what she heard next.

“I was just so scared and nervous about the outcome,” Gillins said. “The decision being said, and just hearing those words — just the feeling of all those women having their choice taken away.”

On June 24, the junior electrical engineering major and treasurer of UB Women’s Healthcare and Wellness Association (UBWHWA) was among millions watching as newscasters announced the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overrule Roe v. Wade, stripping away the constitutional right to abortion and triggering abortion bans in 13 states.

“Access to safe abortion is a necessary facet of women’s health care,” Allison Brashear, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said in a statement after the ruling. “UB will continue to advocate for the rights of our physicians to provide all patients with safe, effective and accessible health care when they need it.”

Abortion is now banned in at least 14 states, with pending bans in nine more, according to NPR. New York State remains among those where abortion is legal.

Three months after the Supreme Court ruling, students and faculty experts at UB sat down with The Spectrum to offer concerns and perspectives on reproductive healthcare on campus in a post-Roe v. Wade reality.

Abortion access at UB

Amid legal questions and uncertainty over abortion access across state lines, the ongoing legal battle over abortion has since shifted to college campuses. UB is no exception. 

UB’s Student Health Services offers a selection of contraceptions, examinations and community referrals for abortion but doesn’t offer surgical or medication-based abortions on campus.

“Student Health Services does not perform elective terminations but we do refer to community-based specialists,” Snyder said. “This is not a change in policy — we did not provide this service during the age of Roe v. Wade nor now post Roe v. Wade.”

Snyder says that the university does not have sufficient staff expertise or the facilities required in order to perform abortion services on campus. Surgical procedures must be executed by an OB-GYN physician in a facility meeting the standard of an “ambulatory surgery center.”

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While Student Health Services employs gynecologists and provides generalized reproductive care such as annual exams, contraception, pregnancy testing, routine gynecologic care and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, the university has historically opted against hiring a specialized obstetrics-gynecologist (OB-GYN) to perform surgical operations.

“In general, the reason we don’t do that is that the OB-GYN specialty is limited in what they can do,” Snyder said. “We’re really a primary care office — it’s not the best use of our funding to specialize in that way. We’re more generalists if that makes sense.”

Snyder cited the same reason why Student Health Services has not opted to prescribe the abortion pill in-house. 

“People call that medical abortion because it’s medication induced. We don’t prescribe that here because you as the provider actually need to be able to surgically complete the termination if the medication does not work,” Snyder said. “We don’t have anesthesia, surgical operating rooms, those kinds of things.”

Other higher education institutions have started offering on-site abortion services. Barnard College, a private women’s college in New York City, announced on Oct. 6 that it would begin providing abortion pills on campus the following year. This follows mandates in Massachusetts and California requiring public campuses to offer medical abortion options on campus.

Meanwhile, the University of Idaho, in a state where abortion is banned, sent a memo in September warning that employees counseling students on abortion or found referring them to services could lose their jobs, be black-listed from state employment or be charged with a misdemeanor or felony.

Augustin said that the addition of an abortion pill to existing reproductive healthcare resources on campus would be welcome.

“Having that as an option would be really great. And I think it would open a whole lot of opportunities in terms of students who might not be able to travel to a clinic to get surgery, or are even just as scared of having an invasive procedure done,” she said.

Although an incomplete abortion via the pill would entail surgery, the procedure for medical abortion itself doesn’t require surgery or anesthesia and can be performed in a medical office, clinic, or at home, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

Like UB, Barnard College also refers students to external clinics to provide a full range of reproductive health services. 

Snyder says that UB has been “fortunate” in that New York State law has been consistent on abortion and hasn’t felt a need to shift its own services, but is willing to listen to student perspectives.

“Right now, we feel as if our partnerships with community providers are giving our students appropriate access to the services, but we would commit to looking at what other college health centers are doing, including Barnard,” Snyder said.

‘Really, really scary’: abortion care for out-of-state students

“I am honestly so heartbroken. Here in New York State, we do have a little bit more confidence, at least statewide, we’ll have abortion rights upheld,” Daysia Augustin, a junior neuroscience major and president of UBWHWA, said. “But I know nationwide, literally millions of women just lost their rights to an abortion. And I understand how detrimental that can be for people who need them and how life-changing not having that choice can be.”

Augustin says that instances of women trying to take matters into their own hands, carrying through on dangerous pregnancies or taking care of children beyond their means are all set to increase in the wake of the Dobbs decision.

But living in New York doesn’t give Augustin much peace of mind. She expressed sympathy for out-of-state students, citing her own relatives living in the South, in states where abortion is not protected.

“It's so scary to know that my family members won’t have that option, just knowing that they could be forced into an unsafe situation,” Augustin said. “It’s always gonna be a worry when it comes to my family that doesn’t live in New York.”

New York law remains steadfast on abortion, retaining access for both in-state residents and people coming in from outside of the state.

According to the ny.gov website, both medication abortion and “in-clinic” abortion are available up until 24 weeks of pregnancy, though this limit can be bypassed if health or the pregnancy itself is at risk.

Anticipating the final decision of the Supreme Court, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a series of bills creating legal protections for both abortion providers and anyone accessing service in New York State on June 13.

New York’s legislation, along with current constitutional law, ensures that out-of-state students at UB can safely access abortion while in New York, according to Professor Lucinda Finley, a faculty expert on reproduction rights and the Supreme Court.

“If you live in a state where the drinking age is 21, and you go to the next state where it’s 18, and you’re 19 years old, you can legally drink there and your home state cannot punish you,” Finley said. “Under current constitutional law, states’ jurisdiction isn’t extra-territorial — they can’t punish someone who does something in a place where it’s legal.”

But students remain wary, pointing to vigilantism against abortion seekers and providers, as well as uncertainty over future policy. Prior to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Texas passed SB 8 — dubbed a “bounty law” — which enables private citizens to sue providers or anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion following six weeks of pregnancy for $10,000.

While federal law currently ensures that legal pursuits from states in which abortion is banned cannot cross state lines, Augustin and others say that they would feel better knowing their medical information is secured in the event that circumstances change in the state, or nationwide. 

“Having that information possibly be used against you is really, really scary. You never want to feel like your information is compromised,” Augustin said.

Snyder says that UB is in compliance with New York State law and maintains security measures to protect student health data. 

“What you can be assured of is that we follow New York State’s privacy guidelines for health information,” Snyder said. “We’re not releasing health information without the patient’s express permission.”

A generational fight

With several months having passed since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Finley says the coming election cycles will be crucial to the battle over reproductive rights in the United States. 

A federal law banning or restricting abortion would override protective laws in states like New York, which enshrine the right to abortion.

“I think that the 2024 presidential election, which will also include Senate and House of Representatives elections, will be probably the most important election in U.S. history, for determining the future of access to safe legal abortion throughout the United States,” Finley said. 

While New York continues to protect abortion access, Finley thinks that residents would be remiss to take a backseat as the issue continues to hang in the balance on a national scale.

“If you thought it didn’t matter whether you voted or not, you should rethink that,” she said. “It only takes a change of a few seats in the Senate and the House and a different party winning the White House in 2024 for the federal government to ban abortion — and then it wouldn’t matter what New York thought.”

Finley says restoring abortion as a right in the eyes of the Constitution is another monumental undertaking — one that could take decades.

“That’s 50 or so years away. It took 50 years for the opponents of Roe v. Wade to work politically, changing certain state legislatures, influencing judicial Federal Judicial Appointments, and getting a Supreme Court that was primed to overturn Roe,” Finley said. “It’s probably going to take a similar number of decades for the composition of the judiciary, the federal judiciary, to sufficiently change again.”

However, Augustin and other students on the UBWHA e-board say they are committed to taking on the challenge.

“I would like to think that even when I’m an older woman, I will still be fighting for what I believe in,” Augustin said. “Whether it takes ten years or the rest of my life.”

Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor and can be reached at kyle.nguyen@ubspectrum.com 


KYLE NGUYEN
IMG_7041.jpg

Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum.

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