After the loss of Roe, students need support, not neutrality

On the morning of June 24, the Supreme Court released their decision in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, overturning Roe v. Wade, a precedent that had protected the right to an abortion in the United States for almost 50 years. Minutes later, the WashU community received an email from Chancellor Martin, who failed to take a stance on reproductive rights, let alone take action. The Chancellor remained neutral in his email, crafting empty, noncommittal sentences that prioritized “respectful dialogue” over advocacy for students and Missouri residents who can no longer access vital reproductive care in Missouri.

Though words alone cannot ease the distress and fear that many are experiencing, what the WashU community needed to hear from the University’s initial statement was a strong stance against the overturn of Roe v. Wade, a clear position in support of abortion rights and a plan of action demonstrating the University’s commitment to reproductive justice. Instead, we were met with cold, meaningless neutrality. 

This decision directly affects the entire WashU community, as partial or permanent residents of the first state to enact a total ban on providing abortions — save for strictly-defined cases of medical emergencies, but with no exceptions for rape or incest — just moments after the news of Roe’s overturn. In Missouri and throughout the country, the removal of vital reproductive care by the Supreme Court will disproportionately impact those who live in rural areas, people of color and low-income individuals. Amidst Dobbs’s devastating consequences, Chancellor Martin’s message rings hollow. 

The Chancellor wrote that as an institution “with a strong commitment to medical education and patient care,” we must “rise above the politically charged tenor of the current conversation and work toward productive solutions.” Chancellor Martin is correct that the University plays an essential role in medical care — and as a partner to the largest hospital in Missouri, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, that role impacts not only students, but the entire state in which we reside. Given that fact, the University should proudly reaffirm what the American Association of Medical Colleges (of which we are a part), American Medical Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agree is a crucial aspect of health care. As a research institution with a medical school and hundreds of practicing clinicians, WashU should prioritize what it claims to be committed to: medical education and patient care. But the University’s lack of a clear stance on the state of abortion access in the U.S. is antithetical to its stated mission. 

When it comes to an explicit course of action that students can expect in the near future, Chancellor Martin wrote that the University will provide “opportunities” to “engage in deeper discussion of the critical issues raised by this decision.” In calling for “deeper discussion” instead of taking an official stance, the University demonstrates an attempt to indulge “both sides.” But at a time in which the essential right to bodily autonomy has been callously and unjustly revoked, you cannot pander to both sides. There are no two legitimate sides on this issue. One side says people can have autonomy over their bodies and the repercussions that a pregnancy can have on a person’s life. The other side’s goals, despite claiming to be rooted in morality, have a long history of causing physical, psychological and financial trauma. The WashU community needs to hear — clearly and explicitly — how the University will act to support access to basic human rights, not that the University will facilitate “discussion” about what rights people should have over their bodies and lives. 

The overturn of Roe, while shocking, was not unexpected, as the decision was leaked 53 days earlier. The University could have taken a stance then, before the trigger ban went into effect, yet it chose to remain neutral. The University could have devoted those 53 days to finding paths of action once Roe was officially overturned, yet the Chancellor wrote that the University is “currently reviewing” the ruling, with no apparent timeline for when students can expect answers. The University could have listened to students’ concerns during this time, specifically demands made by WashU’s Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA), yet there has been no acknowledgement of those calls for action. For almost two months, the University remained silent. And now, Chancellor Martin’s neutrality continues that silence. 

Since the Chancellor’s email, Habif Health and Wellness Center’s Instagram account has stated its commitment to providing reproductive services and pointed students toward abortion access in Illinois, but university-wide communication from the administration remains vague. 

To the University: When you speak, others — universities, lawmakers, donors — listen. When you remain silent, people take notice. You have an institutional voice that can amplify the thousands of community members whose voices have been silenced and ignored. As a highly ranked school and one of the top employers in the state, WashU has influence both in St. Louis and in the state of Missouri as a whole — a fact that the University often notes when criticized for not doing enough

Where the state fails to protect us, you have the institutional resources to work around unjust laws. Whatever the course of action is — a fund for students and staff needing to access abortion care across state lines; additional child care options and flexibility for pregnant students and staff; support for the medical school faculty who provide education on abortion care and the students seeking to learn — show us you will fight for our physical, reproductive and mental health. 

We know that finding the answers to the hundreds of questions that community members have isn’t easy. The state is trying its hardest to limit the efforts of anyone seeking to maintain legislative pathways toward the protection of reproductive care. Viable courses of action may be changing. Even if you don’t have all the answers, we deserve to know that you recognize this ruling not as a topic for debate but as a catalyst for immediate action. We’ve seen other universities — even those in states working to restrict abortion access, like Rice University in Texas — commit to supporting their community’s right to choose. We’ve seen you take a stand on legislative issues that matter, even in the face of opposition. 

Make a statement that unequivocally reprimands the Supreme Court’s decision, denounces Missouri’s abortion ban and affirms the right of bodily autonomy. Commit to protecting members of our community who have a need for now-illegal reproductive care and supporting members who seek to offer it. Tell us you care, and then prove it with action.

This editorial reflects the collaborative opinion of the 2022-23 managing editors.

Reilly Brady, Managing Forum Editor

Jamila Dawkins, Managing Forum Editor

Ved Patel, Managing Chief of Copy

Olivia Poolos, Managing Scene Editor

Clara Richards, Managing Sports Editor

Julia Robbins, Editor-in-Chief

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