A friend from grad school once commented that he and I follow the Supreme Court the way ordinary people follow baseball. She was right.
I suggest that as context.
College administrators, especially in public colleges, are going to tie themselves in to find out how the public should react to Dobbs ’decision. Dobbs’ decision is the one that reverses Rowe v. Wade, effectively shifting the position of authority from the separate woman to the state legislature for reproductive decision. Although the majority decision denies the obvious implications of his argument, Justice Thomas articulated it, and many of its proponents immediately moved to their next step: revoking the right to privacy, which would exclude contraceptive use protections and same-sex marriage, among other things. While some have taken the sharpness from the state’s rights argument to push for a national ban on abortion, there is no apparent sense of conflict.
From a college administrator’s point of view, it is crucial to get the right feedback.
I can fully understand the problem duck temptation. How passionately people on both sides feel about it – and perhaps there are people on both sides of it in every county in America – the idea of addressing it directly may seem “divided”. Public colleges need the support of legislators on both sides, including legislators whose views on the issue may be very different from most students. In fact, some may calculate that any meaningful involvement with the problem will do more harm than good. In some settings, this may be correct.
Still, I think in most cases raising ducks is the wrong move.
Clearly, residential campuses may have student health services that include family planning referrals. In this case, neutrality is not the only option. When a student unexpectedly becomes pregnant and shows up at the health center upset, presenting the problem doesn’t work. In some states, a student who shows up with an abortion may initiate a criminal investigation, which is as far from neutral as possible. Those colleges have to question whether they want it or not.
Campuses without health centers usually provide mental health counseling. The stress of an unplanned pregnancy can cause a student to meet with a counselor. When a student is in crisis, the “la la la la I can’t hear you” policy will be misused. The problem needs to be solved to determine what the counselor can say. And we all know that many students reach out to trusted professors before anyone else; Asking every professor on campus to laugh at the question is not a serious answer.
For colleges that don’t have deep-blue pockets, I would suggest starting with a few feedback.
The first is to acknowledge the scale of the change, and the shocks that many people students, employees, families are feeling. Although he denies it, Justice Alito’s argument opens the door to the exclusion of recognition of the right to privacy altogether, which would undermine the basis for legal protection of contraception or legal recognition of same-sex marriage. In other words, it could be the first push in a series that will attack the legal basis on which so many people have built their personal lives. Its displacement and pressures will come out in different ways. Acknowledging real fears and reassuring people that they are valuable, can only help.
The second is to do what colleges do well: educated. Colleges have people trained in the study of law, politics, history and sociology; These people can shed light on the problem by thinking more than the usual TikTok or tweet. For example, it makes sense to distinguish between simply overturning a ban and banning abortion. (Some states, including my own, have already legalized abortion protection; repealing Roe does not change that.) Some red states are trying to ban shipments of pills that can end pregnancies; Any statesman or lawyer can quickly point out that the Constitution explicitly leaves control of interstate trade in the hands of the federal government, not the states. I also hope to see honest and thoughtful discussions about the effects of abortion prohibition for those who have had an abortion. It’s not usually part of the conversation, but it’s an inevitable reality. And making the connection between the anti-abortion movement and the politics of caste (and the “replacement theory”) clearly can help students understand what might otherwise seem like a random connection. Given that we are teaching for citizenship, the context seems to be good within the proposed range.
As a longtime follower of the court, I will be disappointed to admit that such an important issue was decided in such a haphazard, biased and goal-oriented manner. As a college administrator, I would like to see that higher education both acknowledges the humanity of its own people and provides some badly needed depth and context for wider cultural discourse. Depth or context is not in fashion at the moment, but there is more reason to go step by step.