Oregon has some of the nation's strongest protections for legal abortion.
But in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision overturning Roe v. Wade, not every abortion rights supporter in the Beaver State is breathing easy.
Some students at Oregon colleges and universities who are studying medicine are concerned about what the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling could mean for their personal and professional futures. Others say even though abortion is legal in Oregon, at least for now, they're concerned about their privacy.
Higher education leaders discussed the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision, which has already led to several states passing strict abortion bans, with U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici during a roundtable discussion at Portland State University on Friday, Aug. 19.
Bonamici, a pro-choice Democrat and alumna of Lane Community College and the University of Oregon, said she shares students' concerns.
"If they're going to work in a state that has laws banning abortion, what does that mean to the health care providers and their obligations to do what's best for the patient? If an abortion is what's best for the patient, and that's inconsistent with state law, that creates a tremendous conflict," Bonamici said.
She added, "Privacy is our main concern. I can't stress enough what an intimate and private decision it is we are talking about here."
Michael Walsh, Oregon Health & Science University's vice provost for student affairs, and Laura Stallings, who is director of the student counseling center at Pacific University in Forest Grove, said they have students in medical disciplines who are taking rotations across the country — including in states that have criminalized abortion services or are now moving to do so.
"We only have 4,000 students, and about half of them are in health care-related fields," Stallings said. "Typically they are signing up for rotational shifts all across the country."
The topic of pregnancy and abortion intersects with Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination rule for schools and federally funded education programs.
Title IX coordinators stressed the importance of confidentiality. If students inquire about or receive an abortion, they don't want official documentation of that to be used against them.
"At Oregon State University, my records get subpoenaed by law enforcement all the time," said Becky Bangs, who works as deputy Title IX coordinator at the university in Corvallis. "If a student engages with me around a pregnancy, I'm going to have a record of that to prove I'm not violating TItle IX, but then I'm going to have a record that could be subpoenaed."
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students who are parents are 10 times less likely to graduate from college on time than their peers without children.
University of Oregon chief civil rights officer and Title IX coordinator Nicole Commissiong said the school of roughly 18,000 undergraduates has built reproductive health care and sexual assault policies around anonymity.
"We would very much like to maintain our policy where if employees learn students have had an experience around sexual misconduct, they are required to assist students with access to resources," Commissiong said. "We have confidential advocates to connect students with, but they're not required to report to us."
Bonamici and 60 members of Congress penned a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona asking him to reiterate the scope of Title IX protections and explicitly prohibit schools from suspending, expelling or referring students to law enforcement over an abortion. They also requested assurances directly from institutes of higher education, including those claiming religious exemptions, about how they will protect students who are pregnant and how they will avoid running afoul of Title IX.
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