A Duty to Reproductive Justice

The Editorial Board calls for the college to make a statement on the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade, asserting that abortion rights is an issue of education access and must therefore be considered pertinent to colleges.

Last week, a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked that would overturn Roe v. Wade and thereby revoke the constitutional right to abortion. With the right unprotected, the legality of abortion would be left up to states — currently, 25 states are predicted to impose bans, and 13 of those states have trigger laws to ban abortion that have been in place since the Roe decision in 1973. Marginalized and low-income populations in these at-risk states will be disproportionately affected due to limited access to resources such as abortion pills and means for interstate travel to a location where abortion is legal, while the decision will add further strain on the clinics across the nation that remain open. Moreover, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has even suggested that such a court ruling could lay the legal groundwork for a federal law banning abortions.

Yet there has not been a word from the college about this revelation. Powerful student activism is already taking place on campus — the Reproductive Justice Alliance, for example, organized phone banking and the walkout last Thursday. But the administration continues to ostensibly ignore an issue which students have demonstrated to be deeply important to them. This is surprising, as the administration is usually quick to comment on social justice issues important to students. Nevertheless, college officials have not addressed this direct infringement of the bodily autonomy of over 50 percent of its student population.

The administration’s hesitancy does not exist in a vacuum — sitting members of the Board of Trustees have donated a combined total of over half a million dollars to political campaigns opposing abortion rights, and abortion has long remained a culturally stigmatized matter about which open and vocal conversation is discouraged. The college’s lack of comment, therefore, reflects the belief that issues of reproductive justice can be deemed “too political,” and therefore neglected. But as an educational institution that prides itself on intellectual freedom and extensive inquiry, how can any topic be “too political?”

The college’s mission statement begins, “Amherst College educates students of exceptional potential from all backgrounds so that they may seek, value, and advance knowledge, engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence.” Philosophically, such a blow against reproductive justice is a strike against the college’s institutional mission expressed here: The loss of the right to abortion is unavoidably at odds with the college’s aim to educate students from “all backgrounds.”

Overturning Roe v. Wade would instantly undercut the ability of many to seize control of their lives through education. In one 2019 study, one in five abortion patients aged 18-29 cited education or career as a primary motivator behind their decision to get an abortion. The same study found that only 27 percent of women who were denied an abortion went on to finish a college degree, while 71 percent of those who received them graduated from college. The court’s decision would thus have a direct, negative effect on the educational attainment of college students.

When it became clear that a Supreme Court case threatened affirmative action — another issue incredibly pertinent to Amherst students — the college’s response was swift: it soon filed an amicus brief in support of affirmative action. Why doesn’t the college demonstrate the same level of concern now that abortion access is threatened? Although affirmative action at first appears to be more relevant to colleges, abortion and education access must also be recognized to be intrinsically linked.

The campus discussion and advocacy surrounding abortion cannot be smothered under the guise of being “too political,” as the issue is directly tied to the longstanding mission of the college and the makeup of its student body for the generations to come. An attack on abortion rights is an attack on access to higher education; we cannot continue to turn a blind eye as youth across the nation become increasingly trapped by their circumstances and higher education is pushed further and further out of their reach.

As the right to abortion is essential to the college’s vision of higher education, it is imperative that the college release an official statement of support. The college is an institution of consequence, with billions of dollars and two hundred years of history to its name. It has the responsibility to throw its weight behind what matters and insert its institutional power into this public conversation, to come out of the shadows in support of abortion rights and set a precedent on behalf of the cause of higher education as a whole.

Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 13; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 1).