Questions for CSU Campuses after the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Abortion

By Thad Nodine  

September 2022

In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed 50 years of precedence that had guaranteed women a constitutional right to abortion throughout the United States. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court gave individual states the power to regulate any aspect of abortion not preempted by federal law. The ruling restricts women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, and it has broad implications for the California State University (CSU), even though Californians’ rights to abortion within their state remain protected. 

After the Dobbs decision was released, CSU Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester issued a strong statement condemning the ruling and supporting access to healthcare and reproductive rights for women. She also expressed concerns about “the broader implications of today’s decision that threaten other fundamental freedoms we hold dear—including additional privacy rights and marriage equality—with particularly ominous potential impacts to the LGBTQIA+ community.” Several CSU campus presidents, including from Fresno State, Sacramento State, and San Jose State, also released statements supporting reproductive justice and the rights of women to make decisions about their own health and future. 

About four in ten abortion patients (42%) in the U.S. are between 18 and 24 years old, and two-thirds (68%) are between 18 and 29 years old. Since these are common age groups for college attendance, this means that university campuses, their healthcare services, and their counseling and psychological services will be on the front lines this academic year in responding to the Dobbs ruling in ways that support students. Californians have a right to abortion, but college students in the state face costs, scheduling, and travel barriers in accessing abortion care, depending on the services provided at or near their campus. A new state law will go into effect on January 1, 2023, that requires each CSU campus to offer abortion by medication at an on-campus healthcare facility. 

Education news sources have written about the issues that CSU and other universities will be facing. Soon after the Dobbs decision, EdSource reported on the concerns of out-of-state students at the CSU and UC. More recently, EdSource reported on campus efforts at the CSU and UC to offer abortion pills. In August, eight college presidents met with Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss challenges they and their students face in the wake of the Dobbs decision. As well as covering that meeting, Inside Higher Ed also reported on the vulnerability of student reproductive health data. The Chronicle of Higher Education has written about “crisis-pregnancy centers,” which are clinics or mobile vans that are popping up near campuses nationally and are seeking to scare or shame students away from getting abortions. 

During the upcoming academic year, CSU campuses may experience student demonstrations or protests regarding the abortion debate, including free speech issues. Some CSU students, and particularly out-of-state students, may have questions and concerns about how the ruling affects them. Students who identify intersectionally in the LGBTQIA+ and other communities (that is, those with multiple marginalized identities) may feel anxious about the impacts of this and upcoming court rulings on their bodily autonomy and other rights. Faculty, staff, and administrators may have related questions and concerns themselves. Campus healthcare centers and counseling and psychological services may need to reassess and adapt their protocols and services, including training for staff members, in order to address student needs related to these issues.  

The CSU Student Success Network (Network) developed these questions that CSU middle leaders—that is, faculty, staff, and administrators—might consider to encourage conversations on campus about how to support students after the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion rights.  

  1. What kinds of conversations should we be having—within and across institutional divisions, for example—to prepare for the potential impacts of this ruling on our campus?
    • Who should be at the table in these conversations, considering that this ruling has disproportionate effects on different student populations?
  2. This fall, how will we respond to and support students who are upset about this ruling or who may voice disagreements on campus? 
    • Are our existing protocols clear and appropriate to respond to on-campus demonstrations or student demands? 
    • Are our staff members, including police officers, trained to de-escalate confrontational situations?  
  3. How will we inform students about their healthcare and counseling options regarding access to reproductive services and their rights to bodily autonomy? 
    • How will we reach out to out-of-state students in particular, and to those with multiple marginalized identities? 
  4. What reproductive healthcare and counseling services and protocols do we need to develop or revise to address these issues, including offering abortion by medication and associated supports? 
    • For out-of-state students who may not have access to abortion services in their home state, what actions are we taking regarding their needs? 
  5. For faculty and staff who work with students, how will they now be expected to serve those who are in distress about a pregnancy they wish to terminate?
    • What kinds of information, training, and support will we offer faculty and staff to help them address student needs?
  6. How secure are our reproductive healthcare data? What are our protocols and student protections if another state or a federal agency demands access to this student data? 
    • What data can assist us in understanding how students and staff are being affected by these issues, while protecting privacy (e.g., student surveys, requests for staff trainings, changes in caseloads). 
  7. Finally, how can we learn from the strategies of other CSU campuses in these areas, and how can we share what we’re doing with them? 

There are several unknowns for higher education in the wake of the Dobbs decision. But we do know this: Whether CSU students are from California or out of state, and no matter how they identify personally, we in the CSU need to make sure that all students feel supported in making their own decisions about their healthcare and their bodies, so that they can pursue their own careers and dreams to the fullest. 

A primary principle of the Network is that the talent and knowledge that the CSU needs resides in the CSU itself. That’s why the Network encourages conversations among CSU middle leaders to address challenges and share innovations—not only through this blog, but also through its year-long Middle Leadership Academy, its topic-related Convenings, and its annual Student Success Conference focused on the CSU. This year’s conference (free of charge) will be held virtually October 11-14 and will focus on “Sustaining Momentum for Equity and Change in the CSU.” Please join us at the conference and spread the word among colleagues.