Several weeks after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Penn community remains vocal about the Supreme Court's decision to terminate the constitutional right to an abortion.
The initial draft opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson was leaked in early May, marking the first time a fully-formed draft opinion had been released before the court's ruling announcement. The document stated that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start” — evidence of Roe v. Wade’s eventual reversal.
On June 24, the court officially voted 5-4 to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion. The decision now grants the states the power to regulate abortions and reproductive health care.
Current laws in Pennsylvania state that medical abortions are legal before 24 weeks, and abortions can only be performed after 24 weeks if a mother’s life is at risk. Eight in 10 Pennsylvania voters say abortion should be legal, although only 31% say that it should be legal under all circumstances, according to an April 2022 poll by Franklin and Marshall College.
Many Penn community members have had strong reactions to the court's decision, including Director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program Melissa Sanchez.
“The ruling was like a gut punch, and in other ways it was exactly what I was expecting and exactly what’s been coming for decades,” Sanchez told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “[This ruling is] not so much a turning point as a culmination of what’s been happening since the 1970s. It’s more like a nail in the coffin.”
Rising College first year Agustina Hufschmid, an international student from Argentina, fought alongside women for legal abortions in her home country for over a decade until it became legalized in December 2020. With her past activism experience with feminist and health care organizations, Hufschmid saw the court’s decision as a harsh effort to stifle female autonomy.
“It’s as if America is going back to medieval times again,” Hufschmid said to the DP. “And there is nothing worse than a country that can’t protect the lives of their own citizens.”
The European Union Parliament voted 324-155 in a July 7 resolution condemning the court’s decision to overturn abortion rights and adding the right to abortion in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
“Instead of being viewed as a global power, the United States is now an outlier,” Hufschmid said.
Rising College sophomore Antoilyn Nguyen, one of the leaders of the newly formed Penn Reproductive Justice Working Group, which aims to increase abortion access and awareness in the Penn community, told the DP that they were unsurprised by the ruling and felt that it was a “long time coming.”
“There are actually no groups on campus currently doing reproductive justice work that include abortion access,” Nguyen said to the DP. “We felt like there was a need for that, especially with Roe v. Wade being overturned.”
In addition to their work with Penn Reproductive Justice Working Group, Nguyen has fundraised to get menstrual products sent to local shelters. Nguyen is also assisting with research at Penn Medicine that investigates if racial disparities in maternal mortality rate change with the implementation of a standard labor induction protocol.
“When I was 11 years old, I did not have adequate access to pads and tampons. So later on, I became really passionate about reproductive health struggles.” Nguyen said. “When things like the Roe v. Wade ruling come out, it makes me incredibly upset because I know how many people must be going through the same thing that I did.”
Nguyen hopes that the Penn administration will take a stronger stance to aid reproductive justice and safety, providing women's health resources to the surrounding Philadelphia communities.
Hufschmid shares a similar view and believes Penn should inform students, particularly those not from the United States, about the events surrounding abortion rights.
“Most [international students] are coming from countries that have different regulations than the U.S. So maybe having assemblies telling students about the regulations they will encounter would be good,” Hufschmid said.
Pennsylvania Republican state senators advanced a proposal on July 7 to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to say that it “does not guarantee any rights relating to an abortion or public funding of abortions,” The Morning Call reported. The amendment must be approved by a majority vote in both chambers in two consecutive years and then be added to the ballot for voters to decide; this method allows Pennsylvania’s legislature to go around the state’s governor who can not veto a constitutional amendment, The Wall Street Journal reported.
With Gov. Tom Wolf reaching his term limit, the candidate who wins the gubernatorial election this November will determine if abortions remain protected or banned in Pennsylvania.
If Republican candidate Doug Mastriano emerges victorious from the gubernatorial election, he will institute an “extreme abortion ban” in Pennsylvania, which “will turn the Keystone State into a pariah for many of the nation’s best and brightest young people when they are deciding where to attend college,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Previously as a state senator, Mastriano sponsored a bill to ban abortion at six weeks, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or threats to the life of the mother, according to the Inquirer.
Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro has vowed that he will keep abortions legal. In a tweet following the decision, Shapiro wrote, “I won’t hesitate to use my veto pen to protect your right to choose.”
Depending on the outcome of the election, Penn may become the only Ivy League institution in a state with an abortion ban, the Inquirer reported.
Numerous Penn organizations have released statements condemning the court’s decision. Penn’s Center for Public Health Initiatives rebuked the decision for its "threat to health care access, basic human rights, and health equity," citing the World Health Organization’s recognition of abortion care as essential health care.
“Continuing to reinforce comprehensive abortion care is life-saving, affirming, and critical to the nation’s public health. In light of this decision, the Penn public health community will continue to educate and promote access to comprehensive and safe reproductive care,” CPHI wrote.
Quakers for Life, an anti-abortion rights student group at Penn, wrote to the DP in an email regarding the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
“Roe was, as the court said, wrong from the start. It was a gigantic and unjust overstep of the courts on a decision that always should have been left to state governments,” the statement read. “States now need to do what is right by protecting all lives, including the unborn from the moment life begins at fertilization — something they should have been doing this entire time.”
College Republicans, an organization of conservative students at Penn, stated that they agreed with Dobbs v. Jackson making abortion a states' rights issue in a written statement to the DP.
“Dobbs simply returns power to decide abortion access to democratically elected officials, and by extension, the people,” College Republicans said. “We encourage people of all opinions on this issue to express their views to their representatives in state government, as should have always been the case, which keeps our legislative decisions as close to the people as possible.”
Penn Democrats, another student-run organization, urged “action in the favor of the right to choose” in a June 24 Instagram post.
Three days after the court's ruling, Penn Law School professor Serena Mayeri, alongside law professors Melissa Murray of New York University and Reva Siegel of Yale Law School, shared a tweet of a brief they had filed to the court. The brief argued that laws restricting abortion violated the Equal Protection Clause; this clause, found in the 14th Amendment, requires states to practice equal protection and forces them to govern impartially.
Mayeri and her colleagues argued that by giving states the authority to regulate abortion access as they see fit, the court ensured the violation of the Equal Protection Clause and thus went against the Constitution. This argument was similar to one the United States made in the Dobbs v. Jackson case; however, Justice Samuel Alito “dismissed it out of hand,” Murray wrote in a tweet.
Sanchez believes that the overturn of Roe v. Wade may ultimately carry broader implications, affecting other health-related rights such as same-sex marriage and contraception.
“There's going to be a lot of federal legislation overturned before this particular Supreme Court is done,” Sanchez noted.