College students return to campus amid uncertainty over access to reproductive care

As the fall semester begins at colleges and universities across the country, students, parents and higher education health officials are grappling with how to navigate new restrictions after the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Amna Nawaz spoke with Bayliss Fiddiman of the National Women's Law Center about how the post-Roe landscape impacts students and their choices as they go back to school.

Read the Full Transcript

  • William Brangham:

    Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade in June, abortion has dominated the headlines.

    Questions over access abound in courtrooms, hospitals and statehouses, and now on college campuses.

    Amna Nawaz is back with more on the challenges ahead for the higher education community.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As the fall semester begins at colleges and universities across the country, students, parents and higher ed health officials are grappling with how to navigate new restrictions on abortion.

    The "NewsHour" spoke with people on both sides of the debate over abortion access about how the post-Roe landscape impacts their lives and choices as they go back to school.

  • Marissa Pittman, College Student:

    I'm Marissa Pittman, a junior at the Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and I'm 20 years old.

    This decision has significantly impacted me, along with my community.

  • Katie Gooding, College Student:

    My name is Katie Gooding. I am a junior at Liberty University, and I'm 20 years old.

    Because Liberty is a very Christian and conservative school, we have been able to be extremely civil.

  • Nimisha Srikanth, College Student:

    My name is Nimisha Srikanth. I am 21 years old, and I am a senior public health major at Texas A&M University.

    It's difficult down in states where abortion is completely banned. There are no exceptions at all, like here in Texas.

  • Anna Young, College Student:

    I'm Anna Young. I'm 19 years old. And I am currently a sophomore at Concordia University Wisconsin.

    On my campus, the consensus has been that we want to live in a post-Roe America.

    Dr. Susan Ernst, University of Michigan: I am Susan Ernst. And I am the chief of gynecology and sexual health at the University of Michigan.

    When I first heard that Roe vs. Wade was overturned was a feeling of frustration.

  • Sophie Anderson-Haynie, College Student:

    Hi. My name is Sophie Anderson-Haynie. I'm 18. And I'm a freshman at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia.

    Aeron Haynie, Mother of Sophie Anderson-Haynie: Hi. I'm Aeron Haynie. I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I am the mother of Sophie.

  • Sophie Anderson-Haynie:

    When I heard Roe v. Wade was overturned, I immediately called my mom. We just talked about how mad it made us and how angry we felt.

  • Aeron Haynie:

    If anything, I felt kind of relieved that she would be going to a women's college that really focuses on women's leadership.

  • Dr. Susan Ernst:

    After the Supreme Court decision was leaked, the University of Michigan created a task force to address abortion access, both in the case of a ban on abortion or if abortion remained legal in certain states.

  • Marissa Pittman:

    The United States has a history of denying rights, especially when it comes to one's health, from Black women.

    As student leaders, we are working with the administration to talk about more health options for our clinic on campus, so that more reproductive services are offered for students who need them.

  • Anna Young:

    I am the co-leader of the life ministry on my campus. So we spend our Saturdays uplifting those nonviolent resources in the community, whether that's a maternity home, a pregnancy help organization, or any other nonprofit that steps in the gap in a post-Roe America.

  • Sophie Anderson-Haynie:

    Georgia just passed a very strict abortion law that outlaws abortion after six weeks gestation.

    Agnes Scott College wants students to know that they're there to support them.

  • Aeron Haynie:

    It's a very, very supportive community, and their communication is excellent.

    I guess I just want to say that we're in a position of incredible privilege, the fact that I can choose to send her out of state, that she can choose a college out of state. Most people don't have a choice.

  • Nimisha Srikanth:

    So, the overall guidance from Texas A&M has been none. There were no e-mails sent out. The student health services didn't say anything.

    Now, my organization is called Feminists for Reproductive Equity in Education, or FREE Aggies, for short. So, we are the reproductive justice organization campus. So we will hold educational meetings talking about reproductive justice topics.

  • Katie Gooding:

    We have had multiple students who have gone through an abortion. I have known a couple individuals who have thought about it. But Liberty actually has their own crisis pregnancy center. They have what they call their Godparent Home, which will help students who end up in a crisis pregnancy be able to still continue their education while also still living near the campus and having those resources available to them.

  • Dr. Susan Ernst:

    We're looking at every aspect of campus life that could be impacted by this decision, teaching and the academic environment, how we support students, what students are concerned about and will need in these situations.

  • Nimisha Srikanth:

    Young people are fighting the good fight. We're on the ground. We're doing the work. There are so many people that are still committed and passionate about this work.

    I know so many of my peers who are continuing to do good for the community, no matter what is going on. And I think that it is the young people that are leading today's movement that are fighting these different fights, because it is going to be our country soon — not soon, but it is our country right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we're joined now by Bayliss Fiddiman. She's director of educational equity at the National Women's Law Center.

    Bayliss Fiddiman, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thanks for joining us.

    Broadly speaking, when you look at the landscape since Roe was overturned, what kind of reaction, if any, have we seen from colleges and universities? Have they been changing their policies or trying to update guidance or offer more resources, or have things largely stayed the same?

    Bayliss Fiddiman, Director of Educational Equity, National Women's Law Center: We're looking at a patchwork across the United States, where, depending on which state a university or college or university you may be in, the laws there are different, of course.

    And some universities are state-funded. Some are privately funded. Some are religious institutions. And so each university would be responding to this situation at a different level.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Prior to Roe being overturned, what kind of support could pregnant students, for example, what kind of support could they expect from college health centers or services? And how has that changed since Roe was overturned, if it has?

  • Bayliss Fiddiman:

    Yes, now that Roe is overturned, we — one of our biggest concerns is whether students (AUDIO GAP) information and their privacy rights will be protected when they go to a university health center.

    So, before being able to go to university health center to request birth control access or letting the university health center know that you did receive an abortion, and now our biggest concern is whether students' private information is protected in those settings.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Towards that, continuing their education, what about parenting students?

    I mean, do we know about what kind of support is available for college students right now?

  • Bayliss Fiddiman:

    We know that only about half of teenage mothers are on a high school diploma by the age of 22. And 52 percent of students who are parenting students in college, they — only 52 percent complete their degree.

    Yet they are a significant population within our universities, because one in five undergraduates are raising children. So, despite these barriers, these students do a great job. They're statistically more likely to earn higher grade-point averages, compared to their peers without children.

    So, at the moment, we could be doing a lot better to support students who are parenting on campus, for

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Bayliss, let me ask you specifically about the impact on Black women, because there's this Washington Post analysis from last month that pointed out roughly three-quarters of all HBCUs are in states where abortion has already either been mostly or completely banned.

    And we know that Black women in America seek abortions at higher rates. They face the highest maternal — maternal risks, I should say. And they could also face higher risks of maternal mortality since Roe was overturned.

    So what should institutions in those states be doing right now?

  • Bayliss Fiddiman:

    Yes, I mean, ultimately, we do know that most student parents are people of color. And 33 percent of student parents are, in fact, African American students.

    So, in places where bans are going into effect in where HBCUs — which ultimately are where most of the HBCUs are located, it's really important to make sure that students, again, are protected on campus, that their privacy is protected. But, ultimately, there are resources that universities can think about providing, which would include offering some family planning services on campus as a preventative measure, but also making sure that students have resources, such as affordable, quality childcare on campus.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Bayliss, it feels like there's a lot of uncertainty. You're seeking clarity on a lot of these issues. It's a complicated patchwork of a legal landscape.

    What is your advice to college students as they begin this year and they try to figure out what they can and cannot legally do?

  • Bayliss Fiddiman:

    Absolutely.

    So, for college students, I would suggest making sure that you are aware of the laws in your state. Make sure that you know how those laws are changing, what your options are if you need to leave a state to receive a reproductive health service.

    But, ultimately, I would suggest being as discreet as possible, considering your health concerns, of course, but as discreet as possible if you do decide to move forward with terminating your pregnancy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Bayliss Fiddiman, director of educational equity at the National Women's Law Center, thank you for joining us.

  • Bayliss Fiddiman:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment