Eduvation Blog

Handmaid’s Tale meets 1984

Good morning, and happy humpday!

Today you can also celebrate Kobe Bryant and strange music, waffles and peach pie, or even lament that Pluto was demoted from planethood. (As for me, with any luck I’m currently on a flight to Edmonton, and both I and my luggage will arrive sometime this week. Wish me luck!)

Today is also a day to remember the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which buried Pompeii in ash back in 79 AD. In many ways, the June SCOTUS ruling on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization has done the same thing, paralyzing healthcare providers and freezing American society in time.

Yesterday we began our look at the “Summer of Rage” over the Dobbs verdict. Abortion is a polarizing issue, in the US and in Canada, and the overturning of Roe v Wade has sparked celebration and outrage on both sides. Protests and counter-protests have been disrupting cities and campuses, and free speech has been challenged for pro-life faculty and pro-choice students alike. Much though campus leaders would like to stay neutral, they have been drawn into controversy repeatedly, and even during the summer months, CdnPSE student associations and journalists have been expressing their concerns.

I’ve been chewing on about 350 articles on the subject published since May, and this week I’m sharing my digested version – with a focus on higher ed and CdnPSE. Today, in part 2 of 3, we look at the impacts of the Dobbs ruling on students – from their choices of program and institution, to their life circumstances and challenges in getting to graduation – and on the way academic institutions offer services to them. We also consider deep concerns about privacy, and implications for PSE.


Reader Advisory: As yesterday, I apologize in advance for my white male privilege, and inevitable shortcomings in fully appreciating what is obviously first and foremost a women’s issue. While I’m always trying to be sensitive in my writing, I would urge those who have survived traumatic experiences, sexual assault, or struggled with pregnancy to skip my blogs this week.


Student Challenges

This summer’s student protests are only the beginning. As time goes on, the restriction or elimination of reproductive choice in half the States will radically impact the lives of young people, and their PSE journeys…

More Student Parents

Post-Roe, the ranks of pregnant students are expected to grow, driving increased demand for family housing, flexible timetables and attendance policies, larger desks, lactation rooms and campus childcare. (Many pro-life groups argue that campuses should invest in daycare, not abortion care, for their students.) On-campus residency requirements are often “subtly telling student-parents that they don’t belong.” Under the Biden administration’s interpretation of Title IX, colleges will be pushed to accommodate pregnant students and provide additional supports (although some may claim religious exemptions). Underfunded and overstressed foster care systems are also bracing for even longer waitlists for placement, although Harvard experts say 90% of women denied abortions chose to raise their children anyway.

“Colleges should be prepared for a larger population of students who are pregnant and parenting, but we don’t even have a system in place to support the ones that we currently have.”Bayliss Fiddiman, director of educational equity, National Women’s Law Center

Aborted Educations

Last week, VP Kamala Harris met with higher ed leaders to discuss what campuses are doing to protect the health of students post-Roe. Limits on abortion access have a disproportionate impact on college-aged women, particularly minority women, and three-quarters of HBCUs are concentrated in states likely to increase those limits. 154 economists filed a brief as part of the Dobbs case, summarizing the evidence that “abortion legalization has had a significant impact on women’s wages and educational attainment,” particularly for Black women. (A uColorado study calculates that a nationwide abortion ban will lead to a 24% rise in pregnancy-related deaths, and a 39% rise for Black women specifically.) About 40% of people who have an abortion do so in order to continue their education, so in a real sense Dobbs “takes direct aim at our nation’s college students.” The “motherhood penalty” puts young women at risk for delaying or stopping their PSE: NCES data show that student-parents are 10x less likely to graduate on time. Pregnant students face lasting consequences including delayed career starts, fewer experiential learning opportunities, and a more fragmented peer network – not to mention lifelong “hiring, wage and promotional penalties” for being mothers. It will be important for colleges to implement excused-absence policies, travel grants, parental leave policies and flexible financial aid deferrals.

“The sharp increase of women’s participation in higher education in the last half-century has been socially and economically transformative for women, families, and communities. It came about largely as a result of allowing women to exercise their reproductive rights.”Jo Ellen Parker, Senior VP, Council of Independent Colleges

“People have abortions in college because carrying a pregnancy to term interferes with your education and your future. To provide abortion on campus is a racial justice, economic justice, and gender justice move.”Carrie Baker, gender studies prof, Smith College

Health Services

The Dobbs ruling changes the legal landscape for campus health services in half the States, and is impacting students and the advice or resources they need…

More Contraception

As surgical and medicinal abortion become illegal in many states, men and women alike are thinking more about contraception. Campus health providers anticipate an upswing in students seeking more effective contraception, including IUDs. A French drugmaker, HRA Pharma, has applied for FDA approval for an over-the-counter birth control pill, which could be obtained without a prescription. Urologists across the US report a 400% increase in vasectomy inquiries – although many are from young men who assume the procedure can be easily reversed. Young women are increasingly pursuing tubal ligation. The Dobbs ruling may even accelerate the development of reversible vasectomies and gel-based birth control for men (although of course, it’s debatable how many men would embrace either).

Healthcare Services

Campus health centres across the US have routinely provided counselling to pregnant students – but now, employees in some states could face prosecution for “aiding and abetting” students seeking an abortion. (RAs and student mentors could face similar legal risks.) UT Austin quickly removed a paragraph about pregnant students’ options from the health centre’s website. Texas A&M U will no longer make referrals to abortion providers, because “we’re not going to have any.” A student group on that campus has started offering contraceptives, pregnancy tests, and sexual health resources instead. Likewise uFlorida’s Student Senate resolved to provide Plan B pills in vending machines on campus – although UF says merely that it is “reviewing the proposal.” On the other hand, universities in California and Massachusetts may be required to provide medication abortions through their health centres. (CA passed the legislation in 2019, and it comes into effect in 2023.) Students in New York are lobbying for similar access to abortion pills on their campuses. Advocates for Youth is training hundreds of volunteer “abortion doulas” to provide information and emotional support to pregnant women in crisis.

Increased Security

Of course, if campus hospitals or health centres begin offering abortion services, many will become targets of pro-life protests – creating new PR and security headaches. Institutions may have to provide safe, secure passage for patients and staff entering and leaving the clinic, and prevent vandalism or violent confrontations. When lapses occur, media relations staff will have their hands full.

DIY Abortions

The ACHA worries that students might “take matters into their own hands,” ordering abortion drugs online without a prescription. Online retailers like Amazon are imposing caps on purchases of “Plan B” pills after a spike in orders. Facebook is deleting posts and banning users who offer to mail abortion pills to others. Meanwhile, Google is easing restrictions on abortion pill ads, adding a “provides abortions” tag to make it clearer that they are not pro-life “crisis pregnancy centres” in disguise. 17 Republican state attorneys-generalare pushing back against Google, and pro-life advocates are pushing to suppress online information about abortion, and to remove legal protections for social media platforms when users post “illegal” content. There’s a misinformation vs free speech war online, and unfortunately the winners might be purveyors of dangerous herbal abortion recipes and homeopathic remedies. “TikTok will kill people. Full stop.” (For its part, YouTubesays it will take down unsafe abortion instructions or false claims.) For doctors with a patient arriving in the midst of an incomplete miscarriage or abortion, the choice is between risking septic shock or criminal charges. As of Aug 9, US campus health centres still “aren’t saying” how they will cope. No matter what, campuses will need to improve other sexual health resources, testing and treatment.

“Many of these laws are not just restrictive — they are also vague… The vagueness of these laws also could result in students being isolated from trusted supports in their most vulnerable moments.”Rachel Mack, American College Health Association

Mental Health

And obviously, the epidemic of anxiety and depression on campus (only exacerbated by that other epidemic) will grow worse as students worry about their sexual health and the risk of forced pregnancy. The American Psychological Association backs me up on this, expressing alarm at the Dobbs ruling “despite decades of scientific research demonstrating that people who are denied abortions are more likely to experience higher levels of anxiety, lower life satisfaction, and lower self-esteem.” A UCSF study of 1,000 pregnant people concluded that those who obtained abortions did not experience mental health issues. Those who were denied abortions, however, experienced “an increase in poverty that lasts for up to four years, lowered credit score, higher risk of partner violence, higher likelihood of being a single parent, and higher likelihood of life-threatening complications.” As one family therapist puts it, “At the most basic level, it’s about dignity, and the psychological impacts when you have no choice.” Pregnant women are more likely to feel trapped with abusive partners, and domestic violence will increase. Even worse, she says “there will be an increase in suicide. Not just from depression, but as a way for [desperate] women to access health care.” And in the long term, unwanted children are at increased risk of abuse and neglect, affecting PSE students decades from now.

Enrolment Choices

Experts anticipate that post-Roe changes in women’s rights at the state level will impact PSE enrolment decisions too…

Enrolment Choices

As about half the states effectively criminalize abortion, some proportion of sexually-active young people will inevitably be drawn to more liberal jurisdictions – although deposits have already been paid for Fall 2022, so it may take a year to manifest. The issue was highlighted in mid-June by the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Teen Vogueand Forbes, and in July by the Washington Post, Vice and Reuters. A June survey of 1,000 students in “red” states found that 20% “definitely” planned to transfer to states where abortion remained legal, and 45% of students were considering it. (52% of those remaining were doing so for financial reasons.) An Axios/Generation Lab survey found that 58% of young Americans said state abortion laws would have at least some impact on their decision where to live. In a July 2022 BestColleges survey of 1,000 current and prospective students, 59% opposed the Supreme Court’s decision, and up to 62% wanted to live in a state that protected the right to abortion. More than 40% said the change would impact their decision to remain where they are currently enrolled – and this was particularly true for women. (Of course, self-reported intentions often overstate actual decisions: “the overwhelming majority of students go to a college within 100 miles of their home.”) Another report found that 37% said they would have attended college in a different state, had the Roe decision been announced earlier – including 53% of Millennials. In a post-Roe America, California has promised to be a “sanctuary state,” and California universities expect to be “safe havens” for out-of-state students. On the other hand, dozens of colleges in red states depend on out-of-state students from abortion-protecting states for up to 57% of their recruitment. (Students applying to medical schools may be influenced even more – more on that tomorrow.)

“If a state does not tell a young woman that they are entitled to terminate a pregnancy after a rape, I’m not sure I’d be spending my money on education in that state.”Claire McCaskill, former US Senator

“I can’t vote yet, but I can choose my [medical] school. I’m keeping my options open. I’m going to change the world.”Alena, 13-year-old applicant

International Recruitment

The end of Roe is just one more political issue making US colleges less attractive to foreign students. The PIE News observes that international students emphasize safety and medical care in their choices – although they have historically steered away from Republican-led states anyway. On the other hand, Study.EU reported a 20% surge of interest in study abroad by American students, particularly those living in “blue” states, immediately following the Supreme Court decision. The effect may be magnified next year, depending on the outcome of the mid-term elections this November.

Privacy Concerns

The SCOTUS ruling “opened Pandora’s box” and spurred a data privacy push worldwide, as concerns have grown that pregnancy could become grounds for criminal investigation. As WIRED put it, “the post-Roe privacy nightmare has arrived…”

“Weaponizing” Personal Data

Many Americans fear that abortion-banning states will try to use personal data to identify those who seek abortions out of state or order medication online. Legal authorities could demand access to internet search and browsing histories, location tracking data from smartphones, ankle monitors or license plate readers, and records from credit cards, coupon sites, fitness trackers, ridesharing, dating or period-tracking apps to uncover evidence of an illegal abortion or self-induced miscarriage. Even data on how often you use the bathroom could incriminate you. (As Fast Company puts it, “abortion surveillance tech could create an American refugee crisis.”) At least 32 brokers are selling data on billions of Americans tagged as actively or potentially pregnant, or using specific types of birth control or pregnancy tests. Intimate partners, friends, or parents who pay for cellphone plans may be able to access information without permission. The US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does not cover commercial apps or brokers, and does not prevent health providers from sharing personal medical information with law enforcement (although they can refuse to do so). Facebook has already given police private chat messages between a Nebraska mother and daughter that resulted in criminal charges against both. Another woman’s search history was used to prosecute her in her stillborn baby’s death. Congressional committees are developing proposed legislation, like the American Data Privacy and Protection Act and the My Body My Data Act, but they are unlikely to get Republican support in order to pass. Within a week of Dobbs, Google announced that it would promptly delete “counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, and cosmetic surgery clinics” from user location histories. Abortion rights groups are nonetheless scrambling to lock down their digital security practices, and thinking carefully about what notes they take during meetings.

“When state governments are contemplating a cosplay of The Handmaid’s Tale, we have to worry that pregnant people will be ratted out by their phones and their apps.”Steven Levy, columnist, WIRED

“You missed your period… 20 weeks later you got your period again, and that in that time period your location shows that you went to a clinic… that in so many respects is the circumstantial evidence that a prosecutor needs.”Danielle Citron, law prof, uVirginia

Campus Data Privacy

Campus IT departments may face moral dilemmas as challenging as those in health centres, thanks to Dobbs. In the US, student medical records are not protected by HIPAA the way almost any other medical records are – they are instead protected by FERPA, which permits information sharing on campus under some circumstances, such as a sexual assault lawsuit. That data could potentially be subpoenaed, or used by an individual to launch an “abortion bounty” lawsuit. Colleges collect surveillance data on their students in numerous ways – location data from swipe cards, site data from wifi routers, and even classroom absences or accommodations granted for health reasons. If students request time off to travel for an abortion, will the institution have to report them to law enforcement? In many states, that remains unclear.

“It’s not the technology that makes the choice, it’s the lawmakers… After Roe, things won’t look like 1973. It’ll look like 1984.”Fox Cahn, exec dir, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP)

Teaching Best Practices

More and more colleges will be integrating data privacy training into orientation guides and residence life programming for students. One approach is to avoid creating a digital trail in the first place – turning off location tracking, using a VPN or “incognito mode” in your browser, locking down all the privacy settings on your devices, discussing sensitive matters in person rather than online, and eschewing the use of menstrual tracking apps. Simply enabling end-to-end encryption (E2EE) in Facebook Messenger and other apps could prevent companies from having access to your confidential conversations. (Privacy guides from the Digital Defense Fund and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are places to start, if you want to create materials for students.)

Without question, the Dobbs ruling will have significant impact on American college students and campus services – and indirect repercussions for CdnPSE as well. But the SCOTUS ruling has thrown higher education into legal turmoil, too, particularly impacting medical and health programs.

Tomorrow in part 3, we’ll look at the post-Roe effects on higher ed institutions, faculty and researchers. (As you might expect, it ain’t pretty…)


Since we’re talking about the impacts of Dobbs on diverse and marginalized students today, it seems timely to share a series of polished, emotional student testimonials released last month…

uDerby: Make It Real

uDerby (UK) released a series of polished, moving 1-min student testimonial videos in mid-July (some with already more than 100,000 views on YouTube!) The diversity and inclusiveness of these students is self-evident: Rabia Khan is a neuroscience grad originally from Qatar, Pretty Gill taught sports studies for 14 years before pursuing psychology as a mature student, and Callum Thomas changed direction midway, from sports performance to physiology. But the most visually dynamic and emotionally moving video features Nathan Addai, an animator who is passionate about social justice and mental health in young black men. It’s definitely worth a watch!  Nathan Addai  |  Rabia Khan  |  Callum Thomas  |  Pretty Gill

As always, thanks for reading – and particularly for sticking with me as we explore this tough subject.

Stay tuned for one more issue tomorrow, to wrap up this trilogy…


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