Eduvation Blog

A Bumpy Ride and a Step Backward

Good morning!  

Today’s your chance to celebrate Burgers and Banana Splits, Whiskey Sour and your local franchisees. (In the US, it’s also “National Kiss and Make Up Day,” which can only help?)

Personally, I’m excited to be joining the board of Northwestern Polytechnic in Alberta today, for their annual retreat. (You can be excused for still thinking of them as GPRC – although come on, it’s been more than 8 months!) It’s my first in-person retreat in 2 years, so I made a point of scheduling my 4th COVID shot 2 weeks ago, to try to ensure I won’t contribute to the next wave of Omicron. The real question is – can I still remember how to present from a laptop? (Wish me luck!) 

This week we’ve been wading through insights drawn from about 350 articles on the impacts of the SCOTUS “Dobbs” ruling, which overturned Roe v Wade and has thrown American campuses into fresh chaos. In part 1 (“Summer of Rage”) we looked at public and campus protests, free speech challenges and higher ed controversies on both sides of the border. In part 2 (“Handmaid’s Tale meets 1984”) we considered the impacts on disadvantaged and marginalized students, the new demands on campus housing and student services (particularly health services), implications for student recruitment and retention, as well as data privacy.  

Today, in my final instalment, we turn to the implications institutions face as employers, in medical and legal curricula, and in other scientific research – and at the bigger picture risks to LGBTQ rights in America, and the global repercussions for Canada and elsewhere.


Reader Advisory: Once again I apologize in advance for tackling such a sensitive subject. I would urge those who have survived traumatic experiences, sexual assault, or struggled with pregnancy to skip my blogs this week, or at least to tolerate my limited perspective as a Canadian male with some compassion, as I do my best to consider the implications for CdnPSE.

Legal Liabilities

Since the Dobbs decision leaked in May, US colleges have been struggling to imagine how they can manage their own risks and liabilities in a post-Roe era…

Legal Limbo

A panel of lawyers told the NACUBO conference in July that many uncertainties remain about state laws and enforcement post-Roe: “It’s going to be a bumpy ride before it’s all resolved from a legal perspective.” Colleges may face prosecution if they provide advice or funds for abortion travel. They may face a conflict between state law and accreditation requirements. And individual staff, faculty or even students could face prosecution for counselling, aiding or abetting an abortion. “In Texas, campus providers already have to wonder whether the ‘student’ sitting across from them is a plant, out for the $10K citizen’s bounty.” Even genetic counsellors need to worry about criminal charges for offering prenatal advice to patients.

“It’s going to be a bumpy ride before it’s all resolved from a legal perspective.”Ona Alston Dosunmu, CEO, National Association of College and University Attorneys

Brain Drain

Just as institutions in red states may struggle to recruit or retain out-of-state students (see yesterday), they may be at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting staff and faculty talent too. Colleges across the US share challenges with all major employers when it comes to policies, too…

Employee Benefits

Unlike in Canada, healthcare south of the border is fundamentally employer-sponsored, so as Edelman executives explain, “reproductive healthcare is a workplace issue that companies need to address — not an unrelated political conversation that can be ignored.” Some 2 million American women left the workforce after a pandemic full of school closures and remote schooling, and employers are still trying to lure them back. Dozens, including Meta and Disney, have promised to pay for travel and medical bills for out-of-state abortions or gender-affirming healthcare. (Raising all sorts of questions about privacy.) Google and Salesforce have offered to let employees relocate to blue states at will. Some will even pay for bail, if employees are arrested at pro-choice rallies. Of course public colleges and universities must walk a tightrope, supporting their employees while not running afoul of their state funders. Republicans in Texas already pledged to bring in legislation that would forbid companies from doing business in the state if they pay for abortions elsewhere.

“It would not be the first time the archaic social policies in the South left it struggling to keep up with the more prosperous North.”Jennifer Rubin, columnist, Washington Post

Hiring Woes

In recent years, colleges in Republican-led states have been at a growing disadvantage attracting and retaining staff and faculty talent as their governors weakened tenure and collective bargaining rights, banned mask mandates, or prohibited teaching of critical race theory. Now, some US universities are bracing for mass resignations of healthcare workers this Fall: in the words of an ACHA spokesperson, “Campus health professionals have exhausted themselves over the last 2 years to protect their campuses from the harm and disruption caused by the pandemic. For some, returning to an environment in which they may be forced to choose between providing care to a patient in need and legal prosecution may be untenable.” Nurses’ unions at Stanford and uMichigan have been protesting staff shortages or walking out on strike. Scientific American predicts an “Ob-Gyn Brain Drain” in red states, which would impact hospital staffing, faculty and research talent at universities there.

“These kinds of draconian laws handicap us. It will make it harder for us to attract and retain top-tier graduate students and faculty.”Sarah Bauerle Danzman, international studies prof, Indiana U

Curriculum Impacts

A major federal legal ruling on healthcare inevitably sends shockwaves through schools of medicine and law…

Medical Training

US medical schools are accredited nationally, and all residencies must provide experience in obstetrics and gynecology – including abortions. (Although residents can opt out, the schools must provide the opportunities.) The same procedure, dilation and curettage, is required for some emergencies involving pregnant women, or to prevent infection after an incomplete miscarriage: “it goes beyond just what people refer to as abortion.” For years, med students have struggled to get clinical experience: ~90% of US countieshave no clinic providing abortion care at all, forcing most residents to travel, often across state lines, for their training. “Medical schools and hospitals are incredibly risk averse,” and will likely not want to “poke the hornet’s nest.” As of 2018, just 22% of residency directors thought their ob-gyn grads were “competent” in D&C. In the wake of Dobbs, they will have far fewer options, and demand will exceed openings. Medical Students for Choice argues that it is legal to teach about abortion and train students “on an apparatus,” whether abortion is illegal or not. The Dobbs decision is also expected to impact education in family planning, medical ethics, and a range of treatment options that could lead to miscarriage as a side effect. (Here in Canada, experts like Dalhousie’s Martha Paynter are calling for robust abortion curriculum in schools of medicine and nursing, and the authorization of nurse practitioners and midwives to prescribe medication abortion, if not also perform abortion procedures.) The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has proposed revisions to its ob/gyn standards to help ensure physicians and programs do not violate the law, by providing clinical experience in other jurisdictions or even via simulation.

“In 2020, 92% of Ob/Gyn residents reported having access to some level of abortion training… This [will] plummet to at most 56%.”Kavita Vinekar et al, UCLA

“We should not be altering the basic standard of residency experience in training to fit a narrow and regressive legal analysis… We have to take on a huge level of risk.”Pamela Merritt, executive director, Medical Students for Choice

Legal Training

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade shortly before testing for the bar exam began in July, leaving prospective lawyers “struggling with what just happened.” Some argue that this year’s anti-abortion rulings belong on the “anti-canon,” judicial decisions “so poorly reasoned and monstrous in their consequences that they are taught to law students as examples of how judges should never behave.” The broader constitutional repercussions (see below) mean that legal scholars and students will be grappling with Dobbs for years to come.

Research Muzzled

Critics have labelled Republican pro-life legislation “anti-scientific,” and certainly the Dobbs verdict will stifle some forms of medical research going forward…

Research Muzzled

Obviously, faculty in red states may feel increasingly uncomfortable researching or speaking out about reproductive rights, but the Dobbs ruling will likely also usher in some increasingly restrictive limits on other forms of research. In late June, Pennsylvania’s house Republicans pushed to ban experiments using fetal tissuefrom elective abortions at its 4 state universities, particularly uPittsburgh. (Ultimately the amendment was defeated, and the democrat governor would almost certainly have vetoed it anyway.) A 2019 study found 144 NIH-funded research projects using fetal tissue across the US. Experts worry that stem cell research using fertilized embryos could be the next target, since 9 states have trigger laws implying that human life begins at fertilization, and 11 states have already effectively banned the research. In-vitro fertilization could in theory also become criminalized, if any excess embryos were created in the process, and much research intended to improve IVF outcomes could become impossible. Canada’s Stem Cell Network is already funding 32 “regenerative medicine” projects across the country, for everything from leukemia and diabetes treatments to cardiac rehabilitation. Will the Dobbs ruling, and its aftermath, prompt a “brain drain” of stem cell researchers from the US to Canada, too?

What Goes Next?

As if the Dobbs ruling weren’t bad enough, SCOTUS justice Clarence Thomas has declared open season on contraception, LGBTQ relationships and gay marriage too…

Just the First Domino…

If Republican politicians gain a congressional majority in the elections this November, they may well pursue federal legislation to ban abortion across the country. But this “self-assured right-wing majority” SCOTUS is already poised to overturn other 21st-century societal norms in the courts. As The Atlantic puts it, “If the Supreme Court can reverse Roe, it can reverse anything.” The Dobbs verdict abruptly eliminated constitutional rights to privacy and due process, after half a century, and many suspect SCOTUS will next try to outlaw or restrict morning-after pills, contraception, LGBTQ relationships, and even interracial marriage. “The rhetoric is being teed up in a way that is so deliberate,” observes a UC Irvine biotechnology and global health expert. Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly wrote that SCOTUS should reconsider its former “erroneous decisions,” and specifically named Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell – milestone cases that enshrined the legal rights to contraception, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriage. (Ironically, Thomas’ own interracial marriage could even be called into question.)

Back to the Dark Ages

The SCOTUS dissenting opinion, written by the 3 most liberal justices, warns that either the Dobbs ruling is hypocritical, or “additional constitutional rights are under threat.” LGBTQ couples across the US are revising wills, adoptions, medical directives and other legal paperwork to ensure that “if they blast us back to the Dark Ages again, we have legal protections for our relationship.” The state of Alabama has cited Dobbs in a federal appeal to permit it to criminalize prescribing puberty blockers or hormones to trans teenagers. Missouri senators voted to bar Medicaid from funding IUDs and emergency contraceptives. Idaho republicans are openly musing about banning emergency contraceptives. And SCOTUS has issued several contraception rulings that signal more to come.

“Five justices now on the Court… seem to share both great confidence in the correctness of their own views and a militant lack of concern about the effects of sudden change on the public’s respect for the Court and the law.”Donald Ayer, former US deputy attorney general

Global Repercussions

Although SCOTUS justice Samuel Alito has mocked foreigners  for commenting on American law (particularly the UK’s Boris Johnson, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau), the Dobbs ruling has global repercussions…  

Canada a “Safe Haven”

Canada’s healthcare system is already straining under staffing shortages and ongoing pandemic waves, but now many worry that Americans in abortion-hostile states will travel northward to obtain the procedure legally – what some have labelled “abortion tourism.” If so, it would largely impact free-standing clinics, not hospitals. Planned Parenthood Ottawa is already reporting a surge in inquiries from the US. Even pre-Dobbs, Canadians had uneven access to abortion clinics: there are no rural providers across 7 provinces and territories, and few outside Quebec, Ontario and BC. On the other hand, international travel is expensive and just 37% of Americans hold a valid passport, so the marginalized and disadvantaged who will be most impacted by Dobbsare unlikely to show up at Canadian clinics in great numbers. Advocates are nonetheless pushing government to increase funding to clinics, since “even a small number of Americans can overwhelm our system.” (Analysts are particularly concerned about rising demand in AB, SK and MB, which already struggle with access, due to their proximity to red states.) As you might expect in the “Come from Away” era, Canadian TikTokkers are offering hospitality to Americans under the hashtag, #wegodowntogether.

A Step Backward for the US

Just as the Dobbs ruling was released, America’s closest allies were about to meet at the G7 and NATO summits – so no surprise it was a topic of conversation! In pro-choice Europe, particularly, the SCOTUS ruling came as a shock, and was regarded as “a step backward for women’s rights,” potentially weakening America’s moral “soft power” on human rights generally. (The US is 1 of just 4 countries that have rolled back abortion rights since 1994 – and the others are Poland, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.) As one uMaryland politics prof observed, “this is just one more huge signal: the country’s not predictable anymore.” A New Republiccolumnist says America is “becoming a more backward nation”: abortion is now available in virtually all OECD nations, all of the northern hemisphere, and nearly half of the most Catholic countries on the planet – except the US. And red states in particular, as a Washington Post columnist points out, “bask in the right to fall behind.”

Over the past 3 days we’ve looked at the complexities of reproductive rights issues in the US, and particularly in American higher education – but also the spillover effects for CdnPSE. While in general, the Dobbs ruling will likely reinvigorate the “Trump Bump” that boosted Canadian competitiveness for student and faculty talent – it will also pose new challenges as Canadian healthcare sees increased demand, pro-life politicians and lobby groups are emboldened here, pro-choice and LGBTQ student groups rally on our campuses, and anxieties about data privacy and bodily autonomy exacerbate the mental health crisis.

In many ways, America’s problems always become our problems too.


As US institutions try to recruit more aggressively, they are desperately trying to create “signature experiences” and catchy slogans…

Ohio Wesleyan Connection

Ohio Wesleyan U seems reluctant to limit themselves to a single catchy tagline: their universal signature program, “OWU Connection,” uses the 4-part slogan, “Think Big. Go Global. Do Good. Get Real.” (Any one of which has been used by other PSEs already.) As you might expect, the program integrates interdisciplinarity, study abroad, volunteer service, and experiential learning. “The OWU Connection gives you the broad-based knowledge, global skills, and real-world experience that will help you tackle tomorrow’s most important challenges.” This 2-min video is narrated by administrators, introducing a series of sound-bite testimonials from students on location around the world. The branded landing page is more effective than the video, and goes into even more detail.  OWU Connection  |  YouTube

As always, thanks for reading!

I’m going to be travelling back from Alberta, and then prepping for another retreat Monday night for my alma mater, Western U – so I’ll be back in your inbox sometime mid-week.

Stay tuned – I think I’m finally ready to introduce you to my secret project, which has been up and running in beta for about 2 months now. If you find it even a fraction as exciting as I do, you’ll want to “engage” further!

Have a great weekend, stay safe and keep cool!


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