by Sydney Wiser ‘23
On May 2, Politico leaked the draft majority opinion for the Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case challenges the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that granted federal protection to abortion under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment which provides a fundamental “right to privacy.” If the draft reflects the final decision, expected this month, Roe v. Wade will be struck down and the legality of abortion will be decided by each state.
A recent NPR poll reported that nearly 64 percent of Americans don’t support overturning Roe v. Wade, and the leaked decision has sent shockwaves across the country. Pro-choice advocates picketed outside Justices’ homes and an estimated 20,000 protested in Washington D.C. Students staged walkouts at schools across the country.
Health teacher and Warriors 4 Change sponsor, Heather Giovenco, said students approached her with questions about the issue. Women’s Studies teacher Rebecca Taylor provided her students with the facts of the draft opinion and held discussions. “We have a culture of trust in the classroom, and students, even those with differing opinions, know that they can share their thoughts in a respectful manner,” said Taylor.
Junior Maalini Srinivasan, who’s the gender, sexuality, and class captain for the Warriors 4 Change club, explained how the club used social media to spread awareness about the leaked decision. They posted information about ways to act and the groups of people who’d be most affected by the ruling.
Some Sherwood students attended protests or emailed their Congress members. However, more community-wide protest efforts like school walkouts, which were organized for issues like gun violence (2018) and Covid-19 procedures (2021) weren’t evident.
Usually, when impactful events occur, Taylor finds that students look to teachers for help understanding an issue. Although, given the political polarization of issues like abortion, it’s become more challenging to address in class. Abortion is not included in the MCPS health curriculum. However, Giovenco pointed to numerous proactive sexual education topics addressed in the curriculum such as contraceptive methods and consent.
Srinivasan attributed hesitation around engaging in the topic to how complex an issue abortion has become. “I think people are afraid to speak out about their opinion for fear of facing some sort of backlash,” said Srinivasan.
Giovenco suggested that lower levels of activity could be attributed to the “Maryland bubble.” Maryland allows abortion up to viability and the Maryland General Assembly recently passed a bill allowing for a greater number of health practitioners to perform abortions. Because of Maryland’s liberal policies, those who might’ve worried more about the leaked ruling if they lived in other states don’t feel as affected. However, Giovenco advises that as students plan for college, they should know other states’ abortion laws if they want to live somewhere with easily accessible abortion providers.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion laws will likely remain unchanged in Democratic states. However, many conservative states have implemented “trigger laws” that would immediately ban or limit abortions in the state if the ruling is overturned.
The Maryland primaries are on July 19, and under a new governor, there could be a push to add restrictions on abortion. The prominent Republican candidates, Dan Cox and Kelly Schultz, are personally against abortion but Schultz has asserted that her beliefs won’t interfere with political decisions. The majority of Democratic candidates, including Wes Moore and Doug Gansler, support Roe v. Wade.
The radical differences among states’ laws illustrate a country divided over the issue of abortion. Vermont is moving forward on state constitutional amendments to guarantee the right to abortion while Oklahoma passed an almost complete ban. As the United States grows increasingly polarized, students and teachers question if civil discourse about abortion is possible, or even permitted.