For most young women, a world without Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that gave women the right to an abortion, wasn’t a world they could imagine.
So, when the Supreme Court made its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org. in June, no one saw it coming, not even in the city whose women’s center was named in the ruling, said Elisha Brown, a student at Jackson State University.
“I will say that I believe everyone was in shock overall because, in a sense, it's like you can't really control what happens to a woman's body,” she said. “But that’s the world we live in now.”
While young women all over the country are trying to negotiate a post-Roe world and the restrictions it has placed on such things as contraception and abortion services, for women attending most of the schools recognized by the federal Department of Education as Historically Black Colleges and Universities the issue is more acute. Of these 107 schools, 72 are in states where abortion is now illegal.
BET.com reached out to the health service providers from many of these schools to find out how they’re helping students navigate the new normal created by Dobbs and what students themselves are doing to help each other.
When the Dobbs decision was announced, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country into law. Under this ban, which builds on several existing bans, a doctor performing an abortion faces life in prison and a civil fine of up to $100,000.
As someone who recognizes that students at HBCUs will be hardest hit by Dobbs due to where they’re located, officials at Prairie View A&M in Prairie View, Tex.,are doing what they can to make sure students get access to what they need with an emphasis on education, said Tondra L. Moore, Executive Director of Health Services at Prairie View.
“While HBCUs are highly concentrated in regions of the US that will most likely limit access to reproductive services, HBCU college health providers are well versed in providing excellent care to students with limited resources,” said Moore. “As with any medical situation encountered, HBCU college health providers will continue to provide services aligned with applicable laws and regulations as well as the mission of their respective institutions. Our ultimate goal is to educate our students to make the best decisions for their personal health. Therefore, we will bolster our health education and promotion activities that currently exist to help students make the best decisions possible.”
Although Louisiana’s abortion ban doesn’t feature the same harsh penalties that Texas does, it is a near-total ban with carveouts for such things as saving the life of the mother and if the fetus wasn’t expected to survive.
At Grambling State University in Grambling, La., the health center continues to offer reproductive care including birth control, pregnancy testing and women’s health screenings to students, said Patrice Lewis-Outley, Director of the Student Health Services at Grambling. For employees, there is also pamphlets and literature available, but there is no word on what this means for employee health insurance, she said.
Students at Jackson State in Jackson, Miss., knew the Jackson Women’s Health Center as “The Pink House,” a place where women could go to get reproductive health care, including abortions. While it no longer provides abortions due to the Mississippi law that led to the Supreme Court decision, its website gives a list of places where women can get that kind of reproductive care if needed.
OPINION: In The Faith Community, Understanding Reproductive Rights Is Not A Sin
As for Jackson State itself, the university had already been doing all it could to help students with reproductive care outside of any court decision, said Dr. Samuel Jones, the university’s director of health services. From providing Depo Provera contraceptive shots and Plan B. Emergency contraception, to partnering with the Mississippi Department of Health to provide contraceptive implants, the university was already prepared, he said.
“Jackson State has a very robust family planning, and pregnancy prevention program available to students on campus,” Jones said. “We felt that we had reasonable, sufficient, pregnancy prevention services available. While the global impact of [the Dobbs decision] was a concern, we didn’t feel like it would be such a devastating thing as far as our campus services since the [number of unintended pregnancies] has been going down.”
When the Dobbs decision came down, students from Jackson State participated in protests decrying the decision, said Brown, who also serves as president of the university’s chapter of the Girls Coalition, a non-profit organization focused on women’s empowerment.
Girls Coalition has always focused on mentoring young women through their collegiate experience. But because the rules have changed regarding reproductive choice, they’re emphasizing certain lessons, said Jasmyn Bragg, a member of the group’s executive board.
“When I became a part of the Girls Coalition, we did an event called ‘The Sex Talk’,” said Bragg, a Detroit native. “We’re doing it again next month and we stress using protection because you have to have no guarantees under the law. You have to have a contingency plan in case something happens.”