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How student leaders of Pittsburgh campus groups are responding after Roe reversal

Members of Carnegie Mellon University’s Feminists Engaged in Multicultural Matters and Education club attended a march for reproductive rights in Pittsburgh in October. (Courtesy of Maegan Bogetti)

Shelby Thayer calls two states home. Now, she doesn’t feel safe in either.

In her home state of Tennessee, abortion could be banned at six weeks into a pregnancy. In Pennsylvania, where she’s a rising junior at the University of Pittsburgh, abortion remains legal but faces an uncertain future depending on upcoming elections.

“The fact that the two places where I have homes, I have families, I have friends and I used to feel safe, now I can’t even be certain that I will control what happens with my own body is terrifying and makes me so, so angry,” Thayer said.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday was upsetting to some students at Pittsburgh universities. But hours after news broke of the court’s reversal, coming in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, some began to mobilize, finding ways to offer resources and support to their peers.

The reversal of Roe represents an issue of educational equity, said Katie Jordan, a rising fourth-year doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University and vice president of external affairs for its Graduate Student Assembly [GSA]. Low-income and marginalized students, who already face challenges in accessing higher education, will now face an additional obstacle, she said.

Divyansh Kaushik, a fifth-year doctoral student and president of GSA, added: “It’s just devastating to see what kind of negative, transformational impact this will have on students.”

On Friday afternoon, GSA sent an email to graduate students that reaffirmed that abortion was still legal in Pennsylvania, provided a link to register to vote in the state and included an eight-page, alphabetized list of abortion resources and means of support.

Divyansh Kaushik, president of CMU’s Graduate Student Assembly, in winter 2020. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

In its message to graduate students, the assembly stated that its working with CMU to ensure that the university’s student health insurance plan provides more comprehensive access to reproductive health care, including to those who may travel to states with abortion bans or restrictions.

“If your choice is between carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term or possibly having to fly somewhere else to get a safe abortion access, I mean, that’s a huge financial burden,” Jordan said.

CMU’s Highmark medical plan that students can purchase covers abortion services, including early medical abortions, but the language of the benefits booklet may be confusing, said Christine Andrews, executive director of CMU’s University Health Services, in an email. The university is working with Highmark to adjust the plan’s wording and is clarifying the plan’s abortion coverage with students, Andrews said.

Danielle Floyd, a rising senior at Pitt and president of the Student Government Board, is seeking to listen to students’ concerns and create opportunities for her peers to learn what the reversal means for Pennsylvania and students in the state.

As of June 2022, 61% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center. In the days after the Supreme Court’s decision, pro-choice and pro-life supporters of all ages participated in protests and celebrations across the country, including in Pittsburgh.

Catherine Kazakova, a rising sophomore at Pitt and vice president of the university’s Orthodox Christian Fellowship organization, doesn’t view making abortion illegal as a productive means for reducing its use, which she said would be ideal. Instead, she’d like the country to provide greater maternal supports, improved child care and sexual education and longer paid maternity leave.

Maegan Bogetti, who leads CMU’s Feminists Engaged in Multicultural Matters and Education club, said the group’s members created a resource document, outlining how and where people can access abortion care. They organized a forum on Zoom for students to talk about how they’re feeling, too.

Maegan Bogetti said she was inspired by the way her peers mobilized after Roe’s overturning.

“I’ve been really inspired by seeing everyone else being immediately kicked into action, even though this is such a heavy day for so many of us,” Bogetti said.

Several students expressed concern over how the decision will impact marginalized people and whether it could lead to other rollbacks of currently protected rights, including Jannah Farag, a rising junior at Pitt. She’s also worried about state bans and restrictions leading to unsafe abortions.

“It’s this feeling of, women, they don’t even have the power to make choices over their own body, like what else may be taken from them or taken from other communities, marginalized communities?” Farag said.

Alyssa Beley, a first-year graduate student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said she’s concerned about impacts on mental health and particularly for women in abusive situations and survivors of sexual violence.

“We’ve experienced situations where we already lost control, and then they’re trying to take more control away from us,” said Beley, who graduated from Pitt this spring.

Beley and other students noted the importance of voting as a way to respond to Friday’s decision. People can feel helpless in light of government decisions, but protesting can help send a message to representatives, Farag said. She’d like to see people registering others to vote and holding elected officials accountable.

Thayer, in Tennessee, said people can still work to make change, even if the situation is scary.

“We just got pushed back 50 some years,” Thayer said. “This is a strong group of people, and we have to stay strong and stand up and push for what we believe and what we know people should have access to.”

Emma Folts covers higher education at PublicSource, in partnership with Open Campus. She can be reached at emma@publicsource.org.

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