What the Overturn of Roe v. Wade Could Mean for College Students

Roe v. Wade is overturned. Let's shine a light on the impacts to college students' reproductive rights after this landmark decision.

portrait of Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.
by Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.

Published June 24, 2022

Reviewed by Angelique Geehan

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What the Overturn of Roe v. Wade Could Mean for College Students
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The Supreme Court overturned a landmark legal case — Roe v. Wade — in a 5-3-1 decision. After nearly 50 years of the federally mandated constitutional right to abortion, the reproductive rights of many are now up to individual state legislators.

As state leaders contemplate how to proceed, we consider the impact of legal proceedings on students' reproductive rights.

Nearly 630,000 abortions were performed in 2019, the last year the CDC reported national data on the subject. And while 61% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, the Supreme Court decided to remove abortion access from the federal constitution.

In the sections below, we discuss the importance of stepping into adulthood with bodily autonomy, the impact of losing a reproductive right, and the potential increase in healthcare disparities.

The Impact of Bodily Autonomy on Student Wellbeing

Bodily autonomy, also called personal autonomy, is the ability to decide what happens to your body. This individual decision-making means outside influences or pressures cannot interfere with your choices.

While bodily autonomy is a value many uphold, it is not a legal right. So, a person's level of bodily autonomy can vary based on location, culture, family, and many other characteristics.

The ability to access reproductive healthcare may increase for some students when they begin college. Many institutions include reproductive health services in tuition packages, making access readily available.

Some colleges provide safe abortion services on campus at school health centers. Other schools require that students access abortion services off campus at local health clinics. Leaving campus can prove restrictive for students without free or safe transportation options.

With the removal of federally legal abortion, access to abortion services will likely decrease for many students on or near college campuses. This could diminish students' personal autonomy.

Restrictions to abortion access can cause physical, social, academic, and emotional harm for students. While the physical reality of pregnancy may appear most impactful, stress and a lack of bodily autonomy can take a toll on a student's wellbeing.

Reproductive Healthcare Disparities Affect Students

Restricting access to abortion care will impact students nationwide. The overturning of Roe v. Wade will decrease access to reproductive healthcare for students in many states. Students who already experience disparities in healthcare — due to bias or discrimination based on identity — may endure further repercussions.

Disparities in healthcare exist among racially and ethnically minoritized populations across the country. Reproductive health disparities impact access to contraception, care for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and maternal care, and access to abortion services. For students, the difference in access or availability to reproductive healthcare options can impact wellbeing and livelihood.

Individuals of racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to experience inadequate reproductive healthcare or encounter obstacles to adequate care. LGBTQ+ people, women of color, individuals with disabilities, and immigrants tend to experience reproductive healthcare disparities at higher levels than other population groups.

Students with minoritized identities — and especially those with multiple minoritized identities — may experience more challenges in receiving adequate access to reproductive healthcare. State laws will further impact students with the absence of constitutional access to abortion.

Roe v. Wade Trigger Laws

A trigger law is the draft of a new law whose approval depends on the change of an old law. Roe v. Wade trigger laws can now go into effect after the Supreme Court's ruling to overturn the fedral legality of abortion access.

Thirteen states announced plans to pass laws banning abortion after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. These trigger laws criminalize the practice of abortion and can punish those who provide medications that cause abortions. Colleges and universities may be required to follow any new abortion restrictions, limiting or ending access for students.

Trigger laws in Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas allow for abortions only for medical emergencies or to save the life of a pregnant woman. Utah's trigger law allows for abortions when severe congenital disabilities are possible.

Wyoming, Mississippi, and Idaho trigger laws would allow for abortions in cases of rape or sexual assault. Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, and Louisiana also have trigger laws awaiting approval.

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, states will now independently legalize or criminalize abortion access within their borders. Students continue to fight for abortion rights on and off campus nationwide.

Frequently Asked Questions About Roe v. Wade

What is Planned Parenthood v. Casey?

The Planned Parenthood v. Casey Supreme Court case took place in 1992. Planned Parenthood sued the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its governor, Robert Casey. The state sought to enact laws requiring women to obtain parental consent or, if married, notify their husband and wait 24 hours after a clinical visit before receiving an abortion.

The Supreme Court decision stated that women could receive an abortion before viability — upholding Roe v. Wade's decision. The Supreme Court also decided that states could enact laws to restrict abortions post-viability unless a woman's life or health was in danger and that women did not need to notify a husband to have an abortion. The decision required that no major obstacles be placed before women seeking abortions before fetus viability.

What are considered reproductive rights?

Reproductive rights are legal protections related to the reproductive health of an individual. These rights include health-related topics such as pregnancy, contraception, sex education, and abortion. Reproductive health applies to people of all genders and ages.

Legal protections of an individual's reproductive rights vary by state and country. In the U.S., federal and state laws and cultural practices dictate a person's reproductive rights and access to reproductive healthcare.

Can you cross states to get an abortion?

States may now create laws that limit a person's ability to legally travel across state lines to access abortion services. States could enact laws that criminalize individuals and those who help them cross borders for abortion access.

After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the legality to access abortion will be determined by individual states. States can determine whether a person can legally enter another state to access abortion care. Since abortion is no longer a federally protected reproductive right, the legality to cross state lines to access abortion may be impacted.