On Friday, June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (“Dobbs”). The Court held that the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, and that the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the states, overturning nearly 50 years of precedent. Board members should discuss the far-ranging effects of the change in the law on students, faculty, staff, the community, and the institution.
What Board Members Need to Know
- The 6-3 decision overruled the Court’s prior decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which had established the right to obtain an abortion under the U.S. Constitution.
- The decision allows states to determine whether and in what way to allow abortion within their borders. Following the ruling, more than 13 states banned, partially banned, or began procedures to ban abortion through laws that went into effect immediately after the decision was issued. More states are expected to follow. Other states plan to establish abortion rights in state codes.
- The Court’s ruling will likely have substantial downstream effects on higher education institutional policies and practices, including in the areas of health insurance, risk management, student health and safety, legal compliance, and enrollment.
- Given the deeply personal nature of the abortion debate, institutions can expect additional campus activism in response to this decision in the upcoming academic year.
Why This Matters
Overturning longstanding federal precedent in this area will likely have far-reaching implications for college and university institutional policies and practices. Colleges and universities are major employers as well as support centers for students and communities. Questions around student and staff health and safety, risk management, legal compliance, HR policies and employee benefits, enrollment, guidance to students, and more should be addressed. Some institutions with associated medical centers will need to consider additional consequences specific to that component of the enterprise.
State context here is critical and fluid. Boards should stay apprised of any current or future state abortion legislation that may affect the campus community or the institution. Anticipate whether campus stakeholders may demand action that conflicts with lawmakers’ desires and how institutional leaders can navigate that tension. Public institutions should be especially cognizant of their positions as state entities.
Some institutions have already created task forces to study the impact of this issue, and the outcomes of such efforts should provide valuable information for board decision-making. Further, AGB encourages boards and administrative leaders to develop and implement crisis leadership and crisis communications plans that should be in place in advance to prepare for the response to this development. Further, consider listening to the new Trusteeship Podcast episode “Campus Activism and Protests.”
Questions for Board Members
- How will the board receive information from institutional leaders to more fully understand and assess the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on the institution and its stakeholders?
- What institutional policies and practices are affected by the ruling? Do any institutional policies need to change and how quickly?
- How might the ruling affect student and staff health and safety? Student success?
- Does the Court’s decision have consequences for the institution’s enterprise risk management analysis?
- Will the Court’s decision affect institutional enrollment?
- How might this change in the law impact campus climate, civility, and inclusion?
- Does the institution’s budget include adequate flexibility to respond to new needs, such as expanded health counseling for students, faculty, and staff; additional healthcare costs for employees or insured students; or additional security expenses for increased campus activism?
- Does the institution have a public stance on the Supreme Court’s decision? How will it respond to questions from students, parents, faculty, alumni, lawmakers, and others?
- The Supreme Court of the United States Majority Judgment: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
- AGB Knowledge Center: Risk Management, Crisis Leadership
- AGB Trusteeship Podcast: Campus Activism and Protests
- NBC News: Map: These ‘trigger law’ states would ban abortion only if Roe is overturned
- Chronicle of Higher Education, “Supreme Court Ruling Will Upend Reproductive Rights for College Students and Complicate Medical Training.” June 24, 2022.
- Inside Higher Ed, “Academic Groups Respond to Abortion Decision.” June 27, 2022.