‘It’s Scary’: Students Fear Going to College in Red States After Roe

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When Sasha Rosenfeld walked onto the bucolic campus of Oberlin College in April, she immediately felt a strong connection to the place. It was her final college tour, and the 17-year-old high school senior from New Jersey felt its tradition of activism and service was a perfect fit.

Even its location in northern Ohio, a purple state, was an appealing place to get involved in politics.

I really loved the community, the activism, the Judaism on campus, the social and academic life really felt right,” Rosenfeld said. “By the time I got home, something in me just knew that it was the right fit for me.”

But that was before the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, ending the nearly 50-year-old constitutional right to an abortion nationwide. The same day, a federal court judge lifted an injunction that had blocked a 2019 Ohio law that bans abortions after six weeks, or when fetal cardiac activity is detected. The ACLU filed suit to block the ban, but it seems likely that in the wake of Roe, Ohio will severely restrict abortion or ban it altogether.

When she heard the news, she started to cry. “I’m not a big crier,” she said. “But this type of thing, rightfully, makes me very depressed.”

Committed to attending Oberlin in the fall, Rosenfeld started talking to friends about what she would do if she needed an abortion and couldn’t access care at college. One of her friends who lives 300 miles away in Chicago offered to pick her up and drive her out of the state if she ever needed the procedure.  

“If I got pregnant—no question about it—at this point in my life, I would take Plan B [or] get an abortion,” she said. 

In a statement, Oberlin said it would “continue to cover a full range of reproductive healthcare services, and student health continues to support students seeking the full range of healthcare services not available on our campus” without offering specifics. A spokesman declined to comment further.

After the overturning of Roe, millions of college students found themselves attending institutions where they would no longer have access to certain types of reproductive healthcare. Now, students who had committed to attending colleges or universities in majority conservative states are rethinking their decisions. Meanwhile, rising high school seniors say they now have something new to consider when compiling their lists of prospective schools: the access and right to an abortion.

Twenty-six states are set to ban or severely limit abortion protections and services. Half of them—Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming—have “trigger” laws that will ban abortion in the days and weeks following the overturn of Roe v. Wade. 

Allie Schachtel, an independent college admissions counselor based in Florida, said she’s seen a growing number of clients start to make the geography of abortion rights a primary criteria. “I’ve had parents and students say we aren’t looking at any schools in Texas or any schools in Tennessee and Ohio,” she said. 

Cora Jackson, 18, accepted a spot at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee—a prestigious school that offered her a full-tuition scholarship. Jackson currently lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and said she was looking forward to getting out of her liberal bubble and studying in a conservative state. 

But now, she’s watching Tennessee closely and is considering transferring out of the elite institution if the state further restricts access to reproductive care. On Tuesday, a federal court granted Tennessee the right to impose a six-week abortion ban, similar to Ohio’s. Most abortions are expected to be outlawed in the state by mid-August. 

Jackson said the end of Roe “definitely altered how excited I am to go… I am no longer excited. I am more scared than I am excited, and more dreading leaving this sort of safe haven.” 

Vanderbilt announced the creation of a task force that will “focus on the impact of a statewide abortion ban and plan to address impacts to clinical care.”

Returning college students are also worried about the end of abortion, and women of color specifically told VICE News the Supreme Court’s decision made them feel even more uneasy about attending colleges where abortion is banned. 

Love Lundy, 20, a rising junior at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, a historically Black all-women’s institution, said that hearing about the Supreme Court ruling “felt like a slap.” 

I literally rolled over and looked at my phone. It was like, ‘Oh, OK, so this is how we’re going to get treated today,” she said.

The fall of Roe “is a big scary thing,” said Lundy. “I would never send any of my loved ones [to a clinic] anywhere in Georgia, or even Alabama.”    

Immediately, following the news, Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell  released a statement that acknowledged the unique challenges Black women face. “Our struggles are long and hard and, very often, must be fought over and over,” she wrote.

“I’m sorry, but nobody was asking for your emotions,” Lundy said about Campbell’s statement. “This is kind of one of those situations, like when people die in school shootings, when thoughts and prayers are hardly relevant.” 

And as current college students in red states grapple with what to do, high school juniors are just starting their college selection process and beginning to consider the new abortion access geography as part of their decision.

Chantal Mann was on a college tour with other students in Indiana when she heard the news.

“I looked at everyone around me and I’m like, ‘How am I going to tell all of these people this?’” Mann said. The 16-year-old rising senior from Florida held her phone out and let her friends read for themselves. 

Almost immediately, she started crossing prospective colleges off her list, including Oklahoma City University, Baldwin Wallace in Ohio, Texas State University, and the University of Arizona. Originally, she had 24 schools on her list; now, it’s down to 15.

Mann wants to study theater, and she said she doesn’t want to go to a state where they have restricted reproductive rights—or where there’s a risk that rights could be slashed in the near future. 

“There were some schools in Pennsylvania, like Carnegie Mellon, I would have been so excited to go to. But I don’t want to take that risk at all.”

“There were some schools in Pennsylvania, like Carnegie Mellon, I would have been so excited to go to. But I don’t want to take that risk at all and end up being there for four years. Then halfway through they’re like, ‘Oh, never mind, you guys, we don’t want to have abortions here,’” Mann said.

The Supreme Court decision “made my job of getting a lot of the schools off of the list really easy. But it also felt kind of discouraging,” she said. 

As a Vietnamese-American, Ashley Huynh, 17, a rising high school senior in Montgomery County, Maryland, said she focused her search on colleges and universities with diverse student bodies. But, she said, the Supreme Court’s ruling has also helped her narrow the list. 

“The overturn of Roe definitely solidified my decision to go to a college in a state where it will still continue to protect women’s rights,” she said. “Location has never before been more important to me.” 

“The overturn of Roe definitely solidified my decision to go to a college in a state where it will still continue to protect women’s rights.”

She pointed to the increased threat of sexual violence on college campuses as part of her justification. 

“I’m in the age range where women tend to get sexually assaulted and to know that I might not be guaranteed a choice to have an abortion is really scary,” she told VICE News. “I’m scared for myself, but honestly I’m more scared for the women who live in more conservative states where abortion is probably going to be completely banned.” According to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization, nearly 34 percent of all undergraduate students report experiencing sexual violence, including rape or assault on campus. Twenty-six percent of these students identified as women. 

Schachtel, the college counselor, expects that more students will change their college lists, as more states start rolling out restrictions and bans. 

“A lot of the top schools in Texas and Tennessee are nervous that they’re going to lose applications,” she said. “I don’t know if it will hit this application cycle, but I think the schools will see a difference in applications. Everyone is waiting to see what will happen now.” 

But, Schachtel noted that some students with limited finances may not be able to afford to go to school in a state where abortion rights and reproductive services are protected.

Many schools are already so competitive,” she said. “Unfortunately, some students are still just going to have to go to colleges that might not have access to resources, like counseling or health services.”  

Rosenfeld recognized her own privilege—if it came down to it she knows she would have the support needed to get reproductive care out of state. For now, she remains committed to attending school in Ohio. 

“I am interested in activism. I want to commit my life to enacting change in my communities, and Oberlin and Ohio seem like a perfect place to do that,” she said. “What we need are people on the ground with us.”

(Additional reporting by Maggie Duncan and Lauren Fichten)