How the Overturning of Roe v. Wade May Affect Students’ College Decisions

While searching for colleges, students typically consider factors like size, academic program options, proximity to home, cost and available clubs and sports.

But given the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court — which hands the decision around the legality of abortions back to the states — the location of a college may now play an even bigger role in the selection process for some students.

“The overturning was unpopular among Americans in general, but it was particularly unpopular among Americans in that demographic,” says Cary Franklin, professor of law and faculty director of the Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy at the University of California–Los Angeles School of Law. Sixty-seven percent of adults ages 18 to 34 identify as pro-choice, according to a May 2022 Gallup poll.

“So it’s hard not to imagine that college students and potential college students won’t be making choices based on location,” she adds.

But not all experts are convinced much will change. When students are making college choices, things like academic reputation, scholarship offers and parental influence often outweigh other considerations, even those students may care about deeply.

“Students are not one size fits all,” says Jennifer Jessie, who runs an AP tutoring and test prep service in northern Virginia. “You have to think about what you’re comfortable with and what rights are essential to you over the next four years.”

[SEE: State Abortion Laws in the Wake of Roe v. Wade]

The Supreme Court Decision’s Effect on Students

Thirteen states have trigger laws in place, which were designed to ban all or nearly all abortions if Roe was ever overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights. But not all have been enforced yet. As of Aug. 2, abortion is now fully banned in 10 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

Women ages 18 to 24 are at a higher risk of sexual violence than other demographics, yet some state bans make no exception for rape, according to data from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the nation. (Of the 10 listed above, Mississippi makes an exception for rape but not incest, while Oklahoma allows exceptions for both.)

Meanwhile, Colorado, New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont, plus the District of Columbia, have laws that protect the right to abortion at all stages of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Another 12 states have laws that allow abortion prior to fetal viability (generally considered around 24 to 28 weeks of gestation).

Some college counselors are starting to see students factor state laws into their college decision.

“I had a call with a rising junior who wanted to talk about European schools. She had just come back from a trip to Europe with her mother,” says Kathleen Moore, founder of Vox Cambridge College Consulting LLC. “I asked if it’s because she fell in love with some European countries. And she said, ‘No, it’s because I’m worried about reproductive rights. I certainly don’t want to go to a school where my reproductive rights are limited.'”

Other counselors, like Carolyn Pippen, master college admissions counselor at college counseling firm IvyWise, are more skeptical.

“If there is a student who’s very staunchly pro-choice and that is going to influence their college decision, they probably weren’t looking at a lot of schools in conservative areas anyways. I think that probably in a lot of cases where it is a really big factor, I don’t know that it’s actually going to change what they were already considering,” she says.

For many students, the college choice is driven by financials — in-state tuition at a public university can be tens of thousands of dollars less than an out-of-state school. They may not be able to take location into account, even if they want to.

“We know that this (Supreme Court) decision impacts populations that have historically been cut off from resources, information, support and educational opportunities,” says Nicole Lynn Lewis, founder and chief executive officer of Generation Hope, a nonprofit focused on increasing economic mobility for student parents.

As for current college students, some say it’s too early to determine if the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will compel some to transfer to schools in other states.

Pippen says there may be a mix of current students who want to relocate to a state where abortion is allowed, while others may want to go somewhere where it’s banned.

“This all happened over the summer, so I think we’d see a lot more reaction on campuses if this had happened in September or October,” she adds. “It’ll be interesting to see when students come back if there’s a move to transfer from one place to another or if it’s just a matter of getting involved on campus and advocating. I don’t foresee there being a huge exodus one way or the other, but I do think that it’s going to be a big conversation on college campuses this year.”

[READ: Tips for Starting the College Search]

Potential Impact on College Selection

Franklin says it’s a little early to tell the impact on college admissions but “one would expect to see some shift.”

“Maybe increased applications in California and decreased applications in anti-abortion states,” she says. “We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out. There are a lot of factors and decisions about where people apply. I am certain that this will be one of them.”

Historically Black colleges and universities, in particular, are concentrated in states that have already limited or are likely to limit abortion access. Abortion rates among Black women were 3.6 times higher than among white women in 2019, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As with any medical situation encountered, HBCU college health providers will continue to provide services aligned with applicable laws and regulations as well as the mission of their respective institutions,” Tondra L. Moore, executive director of health services at Prairie View A&M University, an HCBU in Texas, wrote in an email. “Our ultimate goal is to educate our students to make the best decisions for their personal health.”

Lewis foresees either a potential influx of pregnant students at colleges or a drop in enrollment due to students becoming pregnant and no longer seeing college as a viable option. Student parents have high dropout rates: 52% leave school within six years without obtaining a degree, according to a 2021 Institute for Women’s Policy Research report.

“Higher education has not been designed or set up for parenting students,” Lewis adds. “There aren’t supports to ensure that you graduate, there aren’t solutions for childcare or housing, or real considerations of how you’ll be able to access campus or institutional resources. Everything becomes more difficult as a parenting student.”

[Read: Support for Parents Attending College: What to Know.]

Responses From Colleges

Colleges were quick to release statements after the reversal was announced (about seven weeks after the draft decision hit media outlets in an unprecedented leak). Many college presidents and deans expressed disdain toward the decision and urged community members to vote and be respectful of differing opinions.

The “Supreme Court ruling on the right to an abortion will affect many on our campus and beyond. I strongly support access to abortion services, and I will do everything in my power as president to ensure we continue to provide this critically important care,” Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, wrote in a statement. “I am deeply concerned about how prohibiting abortion would affect U-M’s medical teaching, our research, and our service to communities in need.”

Father David Pivonka, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, an Ohio-based Catholic school, was among those who praised the decision.

“I am delighted the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, a ruling that has wounded the soul of our country,” he wrote in a statement. “Roe never had solid legal grounding, and I am pleased the justices had the courage to rectify the error and strike it down.”

Some schools have created task forces and hosted webinars to discuss the ramifications of abortion bans. Moore of Vox Cambridge consulting says it will be interesting to see if colleges eventually follow the lead of major companies that have announced plans to cover abortion travel expenses.

“I think colleges are really good at statements, but not necessarily policies,” Jessie says. She expects student leaders to “shape what direction a college is going to go in.”

“I think colleges are in the same position students are where they are trying to figure out where does this go and how to manage what’s ahead,” Jessie adds.

The most urgent priority for colleges right now is their medical programs, Pippen says. Medical colleges, in particular, are now facing complications with how to train and educate their residents in states that ban abortions. An April 2022 study by researchers at UCLA and the University of California–San Francisco found that nearly 45% of OB-GYN residency programs were in states where abortion was certain or likely to be banned if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

Prior to the overrule of Roe v. Wade, some states took steps to provide enhanced abortion access to college students. A California law passed in 2019, for instance, requires all of the state’s public universities to make medication abortion available at their campus health clinics by January 2023.

“I think the California colleges will become a model of colleges that say abortion is part of health care and we will provide health care to you. We’re not going to stigmatize this,” Franklin says. “One of the things that this (Supreme Court) decision has done is made people aware of the tenuousness of reproductive rights, especially for women, and the need to actually step up and make sure that people have access. Colleges are an important part of that ecosystem because there are so many people capable of getting pregnant on college campuses.”

More from U.S. News

What to Consider When Visiting a College Town

How to Choose Between Urban, Suburban and Rural Colleges

When to Apply to College

How the Overturning of Roe v. Wade May Affect Students’ College Decisions originally appeared on

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up