November 18, 2021
Recent Abortion Challenges May Impact Women’s Access to Higher-Ed
The political fight over reproductive rights has been waging for well over a century, and has reached a pivotal point in recent months. Texas Senate Bill 8, which passed Sept. 1 2021, banned nearly all abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, abortions were illegal, dangerous, and resulted in deaths—roughly 200 per year. The varying availability all over the country led to dangerous back-alley abortions or self-induced abortions for women seeking to terminate pregnancies. Women of color faced a 30% higher mortality rate than white women when taking part in these illegal and unsafe methods.
For medical providers who offered them, it meant risking jail time and the loss of their medical license. That is why most medical providers were not performing these procedures prior to Roe v. Wade. People with limited to no medical training were left to perform abortions in cars, secret offices, hotel rooms, bathrooms and, quite literally, back alleyways.
Roe v. Wade changed that and allowed for safe and legal abortions to be performed on those who need or chose it. The Supreme Court ruling guaranteed access to a safe legal abortion based on a women’s constitutionally protected “right to privacy”. Companies such as Planned Parenthood made the newly legalized procedure even more accessible in more than 600 locations.
With more control over their lives, more women began to enter into post-secondary education and reach higher in their careers. In the decade following the Roe v. Wade decision, the number of women aged 20-24 enrolled in school increased by approximately 50%, with only 16.7% of the population enrolled in 1973 and 21.2% by 1984. For comparison, the number of men enrolled grew about 20%, with 25.2% enrolled in 1973 and 26.3% in 1984.
The ability to have a safe abortion, including options to prevent pregnancies such as birth control pills, IUDs and a variety of other birth control methods became more accessible than ever in the 1990’s, helping women achieve more and not have to set aside their aspirations for a family if they didn’t want to.
This fall, NMC had 1,811 female students and 1,486 male students enrolled in classes—a 4.6% increase in females from recent years. As we hope to see both genders’ enrollment increase, the numbers are promising as women continue to further their education and careers in Northern Michigan. NMC’s primary age demographic is students ages 18 to 30—the ages women are most likely to be affected by abortion restrictions and bans.
Here in Michigan, laws predating 1973 would come into effect should Roe v. Wade be overturned—banning abortions for Michiganders. Experts do not foresee this happening and Governor Gretchen Whitmer has pushed an order to repeal the 1931 law that criminalizes abortion as a felony except when to save the life of the person carrying the child. Despite the Roe v. Wade decision making this law inactive, Whitmer’s attempt to repeal it is to protect the right of Michiganders to a safe and legal abortion, should the unexpected happen.
Today, hundreds of thousands of women are trailblazing into previously male-dominated fields. Having complete control over their own bodies, and ultimately their entire lives, has led to great progress in society simply by allowing more women into these previously male-dominated spaces.
Taking away access to birth control methods and safe abortions could set women back. With a higher global population rate and more teen pregnancies than before the 1973 ruling, a higher death rate due to unsafe and illegal methods are expected. If history is any sign of what could come, a decline in college enrollment among women, and fewer earning higher degrees, can be expected. For many women, having a child is a large financial, mental, and physical commitment, especially for those without a strong support system, and extra schooling quickly becomes unattainable. This limits the quality of life for both mother and child.
Although experts do not expect Roe v. Wade to be overturned soon, Texas Senate Bill 8 demonstrates an alarming step back towards how we once were and brings about questions of what’s next. And it is not the only law the Supreme Court is ruling on.
The court will take up the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization beginning Dec. 1. The Mississippi abortion law prohibits abortions after 15-weeks on the claims that fetuses have made important physiological development and that there is a larger risk for the mother’s health. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, cannot provide abortions after 16 weeks due to in-state restrictions. These strict restrictions do not outlaw abortions, but they are inhibiting those who attempt to get them.