Silence from UNC as public and private universities weigh in on Supreme Court abortion ruling

By: - July 1, 2022 9:00 am

One week after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with its landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization, public and private colleges and universities across the country have weighed in the elimination of a constitutional right to abortion.

From the University of North Carolina System and its flagship campus, UNC-Chapel Hill: total silence.

On Thursday Mimi Chapman, chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, released her own statement.

“When health and well-being are so threatened, what is our task as a community of scholars and practitioners?” Chapman wrote in the statement. “The real-world implications are so severe that we cannot hide behind worries about being “biased, uncivil, or too political.” We need to use our science, our moral, political and legal analyses, and our empathy to help our state make the best decisions for our citizens. As the University of the People, to do so is our job and our honor.”

“As I’m sure you know,  I do not and cannot speak for the University on these matters,” Chapman wrote. “So, I speak for myself and hope that provides you with a measure of courage and comfort in these difficult and uncertain days.”

Chapman is one of the founders of the Coalition for Carolina, which has been pushing back on what it says is the politicization of the campus and the UNC System by the Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly and their political appointees, who govern the university system.

In the absence of an official statement from UNC, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health released its own statement on the ruling’s impacts on the day it was announced.

“I recognize that, as I make this statement, there are those in our community who support the Supreme Court ruling,” wrote Dean Barbara K. Rimer. “That is their right, and I respect the differences between people on the issues of abortion and reproductive rights. However, this is not and should not be an issue of politics. Abortion has never been the province of one party alone. And, when it comes to personal decisions, people have made choices that transcend party, religion, region and other factors. That is as it should be.”

“Self-determination over one’s body is a basic tenet of public health and enabling people to make choices about whether to end the medical condition of pregnancy is an integral part of that,” Rimer wrote. “Abortion is a part of the full complement of reproductive health services. The World Health Organization underscores this tenet by including comprehensive abortion care in its list of essential health care services. Bearing a child should be a personal, private, individual choice and should not be mandated by government. Ending a pregnancy certainly should not be criminalized.”

Other universities and colleges – in North Carolina and beyond – have not felt constrained in weighing in on the decision.

Duke University’s Duke Health released a statement last Friday, shortly after the high court’s ruling was officially released.

“Duke Health is committed to providing a full range of the highest quality family planning services, including abortion, in full compliance with current state laws,” the statement read. “This care is designed for the complex and highly sensitive health and emotional needs of people who are making childbearing decisions. Safe and reliable access to these services is a critical part of women’s health, and it is also a vital component of our educational mission to train physicians to deliver comprehensive care. We value the ability to deliver these critical services safely and compassionately, and we will assess changes if required by law.”

Johns Hopkins University, widely considered a peer institution to Duke and UNC in medicine and research, also released a statement the day of the ruling.

“As a major employer in Maryland with a presence in the National Capital Region and in Florida, and as a leading provider of clinical care, including health and well-being services to our students, we take seriously our obligation to the many populations we serve,” the statement read. “We have been monitoring closely the outcome of this decision and its implications for the provision of reproductive health care.”

“To the fullest extent allowed under the law, our institutions will continue to be guided by the evidence-based best practices established by medical and public health faculty experts and practitioners, which make clear that access to safe, legal abortion is critical for the health of individuals, families, and communities,” the statement read.

As private institutions, Duke and Johns Hopkins don’t face political constraints or fear of political reprisals from governing boards of political appointees. But public universities around the country have also spoken up on the decision.

The University of Connecticut released a statement this week saying it would continue to provide access to abortion as essential health care, as did the University of Michigan, the University of Oregon, California State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison  and public universities across California. Several of those universities expressed concern as to how the decision would impact training and medical care at their university hospitals and medical schools.

In a message to his university community, University of Oregon President Michael H. Schill wrote that he was also concerned about the broader impacts of the ruling.

“This ruling is extremely distressing for many members of our community who see reproductive rights and protections as central to human rights,” Schill wrote. “It also may threaten other rights that many of us have come to rely upon. And, unfortunately, It is almost certain to fuel further division in our already polarized society.”

As Policy Watch reported this week, legal experts in North Carolina expect the ruling in Dobbs will be the beginning of an erosion of precedents involving legal access to contraception, the legality of same-sex sexual relationships and same-sex marriage.


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Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.