When the US Supreme Court came down deer c. Wade On June 24, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion and handing decisions about abortion access to state legislatures, the response across the polarized country was swift, dramatic and divided. Many scientists condemned the decision as a potentially deadly violation of human rights. “Abortion bans will kill people in many different horrible ways,” wrote Amanda Stevenson, an abortion researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Some scientists also began to question how the decision will affect the research community, especially in states that prohibit or severely restrict abortion.
“It’s going to really negatively impact science … if we have scientists actively avoiding half of this place, or all of it entirely,” says Rosa Lafer-Sousa, a neuroscience postdoc based in Washington, DC, who is considering how the decision will affect her future faculty job search. She and others expressed fears that the lack of an abortion option would create difficulties for aspiring scientists who become pregnant. “I really worry that this will affect people’s ability to write their own destiny,” says an MD-Ph.D. student at a Texas university who requested anonymity.
The Supreme Court’s reversal is likely to be felt most strongly among groups already underrepresented in science, says Nicole Williams, director of outreach for the nonprofit 500 Women Scientists. “Being an African-American woman and just knowing the statistics—that people of color who give birth already experience high levels of pregnancy-related mortality—the reversal of deer against Wade it’s a death sentence for black women scientists and birthers.”
These concerns have caused some scientists to reconsider their career plans and where they are willing to live and work. Texas MD-Ph.D. student, for example, is considering leaving once she finishes her program because of the state’s strict abortion laws. “It’s really hard. … I love Texas,” she says. Many other researchers of all genders and career stages shared similar stories on social media, saying they would leave or not pursue professional opportunities in states that restrict abortion.
Those seeking faculty positions face special challenges, Lafer-Sousa says, because “you don’t have a lot of choice about where you end up in the first place, and now there’s even less choice if you take away half the states and say, ‘Well, I’m not willing to live there.” But ultimately, she doesn’t think she’d feel comfortable recruiting trainees to join her in a state that doesn’t grant them reproductive autonomy. As a second year doctor. student, she unexpectedly became pregnant after her contraception failed. Her subsequent decision to end the pregnancy was relatively easy, she says, because she wanted to focus on her education — and she wants the same freedom for others. “Being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term during graduate school would have created a significant burden on me and potentially derailed my career plans,” she says.
Established faculty members in affected states are grappling with similar questions. “I had to take a mental health day just to process everything that happened and deal with the emotions,” says an assistant professor in a biomedical field who is based in a southern state where abortion is now illegal in almost all cases. Talking to science on condition of anonymity, she is particularly concerned about students at her university who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and may not be able to afford to travel to another state if they need an abortion. “Will I ever have to … send a student of mine to a ‘conference’ in California?” she asks. “Is this something I should start thinking about?”
She’s not sure she wants to stick around to find out. But whether to leave her position is a difficult decision. She is the only racial or ethnic minority in her department, and she thinks she can have more influence where she is than in more liberal states — “both in terms of my votes, but also in the mentorship and support I can give them.” assure underrepresented minority students. exist here,” she says. “I’m Latina. I’m a woman. And in science, both of those identities are underrepresented.” But in the fall, she will likely begin applying for faculty positions elsewhere. “The fear for my safety and well-being — and even more so, for my students — weighs heavily on me.”
Several university administrators have issued statements expressing support for the reproductive rights of their students and employees. MD-Ph.D. student, for example, says her school’s administrators sent out an email assuring the community that students and faculty will be supported as much as possible. But other universities have remained silent, frustrating academics who want to know their employer is paying attention to the issue. The southern professor, for example, has not received any email or statement from her university. “It bores me,” she says.
Scientists have also called on their professional societies to take action, particularly regarding conference venues, with some proposing to boycott meetings in states that ban abortion. Others have opposed that idea, saying it would only hurt scientists in those states. But others argue that the stance does not take into account the health and safety of the participants. “Any child-bearing person can have a pregnancy-related emergency at your conference,” tweeted Northwestern University neuroscience postdoc Ana Vlasits. “Your event should not be held in a place where your colleagues who are giving birth could be put at risk.”
These concerns make sense to Catherine Alves, a Rhode Island-based social scientist who is currently 38 weeks pregnant. Last year, she had a miscarriage and made the “tough call” to take the drug misoprostol to help her body expel the fetal tissue. Her situation was not an emergency, but other pregnancy-related complications that are often treated with abortion drugs, such as ectopic pregnancies, can be fatal if not treated quickly. It is not clear whether those drugs will continue to be prescribed in emergency situations in all states. “As a pregnant person,” Alves says, she wouldn’t feel comfortable attending conferences in places where, if something went wrong, “I couldn’t get the medical care I needed, and that reflects my values.”