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Statement on Supreme Court decision

Presidential Letters 21-22

Published June 24, 2022

Dear students, staff, faculty and alums:

Today the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. As reported by The New York Times, “the decision, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, will lead to all but total bans on the procedure in about half of the states.” Decisions about reproductive rights are now relegated to the states, which will exacerbate inequalities in access to reproductive healthcare. In the words of Gloria Steinem ’56, “medical needs should not be distributed geographically. They're way too distributed by class and economics as it is because we don't have national health care as we should. And this makes it far worse for the female half of the population.”

In an amicus brief in support of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, economists noted that “there is a substantial body of well-developed and credible research that shows that abortion legalization and access in the United States has had—and continues to have—a significant effect on birth rates as well as broad downstream social and economic effects, including on women’s educational attainment and job opportunities.” Research in the years since Roe v. Wade became law has shown that access to abortion increased the probability that young women finished college by nearly 20 percentage points and entered a professional occupation by nearly 40 percentage points; it also found that teen motherhood was reduced by 34% and teen marriage by 20%.

Today’s ruling will have widespread implications, including within the higher education community. While the right to choose will remain legal in Massachusetts and much of New England, restrictions in other states will limit some students’ access to reproductive health services, thereby negatively affecting education access and graduation rates for pregnant students and potentially their partners. Further, the health—and mental health—of some students may suffer as a direct result of this ruling.

Smith encourages deep understanding and rigorous conversation on matters of national importance. The first Presidential Colloquium of the year will feature three faculty members who have studied and advocated for reproductive rights. I invite you to come hear the perspectives of Professors Carrie Baker (American studies), Alice Hearst (government), and Loretta Ross (study of women and gender) on September 7 at 5 p.m. in the Carroll Room.

I encourage you to inform your representatives at both the state and federal levels concerning your views, whatever they are, on this Supreme Court decision. For those of us who fought for a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have a child, this decision is hard to believe and hard to bear. At their reunion last month, the class of ’72 wore black armbands in protest of the leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision, an example of how Smithies always make their voices heard. As decisions about access to abortion return to the states, many will choose to act, once again, to make the right to abortion available to all, regardless of where one lives.


Kathleen McCartney