For young women across the country, the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion was a certainty — a legal right that was established and enshrined long before they were born.
Friday’s ruling overturning the landmark decision has left many college-aged women shocked and angry. Some are pessimistic about the ruling and believe it is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court overturns decisions legalizing contraceptives and same sex relationships. Others are focused on protesting and switching their birth control to more permanent solutions. All have just taken their first steps in an unfamiliar, post-Roe world.
Tamra Benson, a 21-year-old University of Maine Orono student, said the Supreme Court decision has motivated her to reconsider her birth control options.
“I’m a little scared that I’m not going to have access to it in the future, so I’m very, very strongly considering getting my tubes tied,” the Turner native said in a phone interview. “I knew I didn’t want to have children with my own body, and then this morning the thought just went through my mind of ‘wow, I really need to do this now.’ I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep getting my birth control in the future.”
In his concurring opinion for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that he would like the Supreme Court to reconsider a number of opinions, including Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 decision which furthered access to birth control like the pill.
Halle James, a student at University of Maine Orono from Oxford Hills, said she was planning on switching to an IUD insert for her birth control following the decision. She currently takes Depo-Provera, which is a birth control shot every three months, but said she wants something more effective. Depending on the type, IUDs last between three and seven years.
“I am not in a position to have a kid, of course, because I’m so busy with everything,” the 20-year-old said. “I’m just horrified that they would try to force a decision like that down people’s throats.”
Benson said she was shocked by the decision, though not surprised.
“At this point, it’s just numb,” she said. “Rage. I am so angry.”
Ryley Velozo, a 21-year-old completing her master’s degree at Thomas College, felt shocked and worried when a coworker told her the news on Friday morning.
“I feel like it’s ignorant to not be worried. Ignorance is bliss,” she said. “Everybody didn’t think that Roe v. Wade was going to be something that was overturned, but if they could overturn that, then what’s to say they couldn’t overturn other stuff.”
Abortion was not accepted or approved by her community when she was growing up in Turner, Velozo recalled Friday. But as she grew older, and started forming her own opinions, her family was open to having more discussions about the issue.
“As we became more educated, we established that it’s very much a choice based decision,” she said. “If we’re not the pregnant person, then it doesn’t really involve us.”
Her research into Planned Parenthood showed her how important abortion, and access to women’s healthcare, was to everyone. Her response to the court decision has been to educate herself further on the issue, go to protests and donate to causes that support women’s healthcare, including abortion services.
For 20-year-old Julia Bisson, growing up in North Yarmouth meant that abortion was not discussed or taught.
“I grew up in a more conservative area, so we didn’t really talk about that at all,” the Bates College student said. “In sex education in high school, you just get taught abstinence is the only way to not get pregnant. I don’t think I was ever taught about abortion.”
Though she does not have personal experience with abortion, Benson stated she knows several people who have benefited from abortion access in the past. Just a few days ago, she said, she was helping a friend through a pregnancy scare.
“We were kind of talking about, what are you going to do if you are pregnant,” she said. “They’re not in a place right now where they can, you know, afford to take care of a child at this point in their life. So abortion was the top option if they turned out to be pregnant.”
Benson’s fears mirror many for those in her generation; the uncertainty of what reproductive rights look like looms. In their dissenting opinion to the court’s decision, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor acknowledged the reversal’s impact on Benson’s generation.
“After today, young women will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers had,” the justices wrote.
In Maine, abortion will remain legal as a result of the 1994 Reproductive Privacy Act, which affirms a woman’s right to end a pregnancy until roughly 23 weeks, or fetal viability unless a plethora of anti-abortion canidates win elections and repeal the law. The act, which was spearheaded by Republican Gov. John McKernan, was in response to violence across the country against doctors by anti-abortion activists, including the murder of Dr. David Gunn, an OB-GYN from Florida.
Currently, Gov. Janet Mills, who supports abortion rights, is running against Republican Paul LePage, an abortion opponent who served as governor of the state from 2011 until 2019. For Benson and Velozo, the upcoming election is crucial to protect the Reproductive Privacy Act and continue access to abortion for Mainers.
“Just because in Maine right now it’s legal for an abortion doesn’t mean it won’t change,” Velozo said. “So because of that, I’m going to be more actively fighting for somebody that is pro-choice.”
Benson, for her part, said she is “very much focused on the midterm elections,” and will be volunteering for only candidates that support the right to have an abortion. She’s even thinking about working in an internship for a political organization to focus on the issue more seriously.
While James usually pays a lot of attention to state elections, the upcoming midterm election feels more important to her, especially with access to abortion in the balance.
“I believe that the most impact you could have with voting is on a local basis,” she said. “I’m even more excited and nervous to see what goes on with that. I’m very, very attentive to this right now.”
Besides voting, James is planning to volunteer at the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Center in Bangor, which offers abortion care, as well as birth control, annual wellness exams and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, according to its website.
Bisson feels less optimistic about her ability to change the outcome of the court’s decision.
“I think the state of politics today is that politicians don’t really listen to the people anymore,” she said. “They’re just listening to what the party wants them to vote for, what they think is in the best interest for their power.” She said supporting local clinics is important, but since it’s a state issue now, “you can only do what you can in your own state, you can’t really change it for others.”
Though she does plan to vote for abortion rights candidates in this fall’s upcoming midterm elections, she isn’t sure what else will make an impact.
“People who think one way aren’t going to change their minds and I think it’s just a common trend in the world that people don’t change their opinions until they’re personally affected by something that makes them do so,” she said. “You can work to educate people and be loud and protest and work for those midterm election results, but at the end of the day, no one’s going to vote differently unless they’re personally affected by something that makes them change their mind.”
Bisson said she struggles to find hope about women’s rights and the future of reproductive health after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but it is helpful to realize that she is not alone.
“It’s brought a lot of women together and united us under this one decision and one reality,” she said. “It gives me a little bit of hope and a little bit of empowerment to know that [I’m] not alone. I hear people talking about it in the street or the office, it’s nice that it’s just not one isolated group of people. It’s all of us.”
Colleges across the state have reaffirmed their commitments to supply young women with various forms of contraception and women’s health care.
Northern Light Health, a facility that assists students from University of Maine Orono, told The Maine Monitor that it will not change the health care its hospitals provide to women. The facility currently offers “women’s health” services, according to its website.
“At Northern Light Health, our focus is ensuring that all women have access to the care they need to live long, healthy lives,” Suzanne Spruce, senior vice president, chief marketing and communications officer, wrote in a statement. “The U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade does not change Maine law and the services we currently offer will remain the same.”
Bates College similarly “plans to continue to offer the same reproductive and sexual health services it currently provides to its students,” Mary Pols, the college’s spokesperson, wrote in a statement. The college provides students with several health care options for women, including gynecological exams, STI testing, short acting contraception like the pill, long-acting reversible contraception like IUDs and emergency contraception, including Plan B and Ella.
At Bowdoin College, women can make appointments for emergency contraception counseling and treatment, gynecological exams and STI testing, as well as “opportunities” to discuss birth control options, according to their health center’s website. In addition, the center states it “frequently coordinate[s] referrals to Planned Parenthood for IUD implant insertions.”
The Colby College health center’s website states it provides “sexual health consultations” as well as gynecological exams and STI testing.
Story by Ellie Wolfe.
This story was originally published by The Maine Monitor. The Maine Monitor is a local journalism product published by The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonpartisan and nonprofit civic news organization.