Oregon’s public universities and private colleges react to the overturning of Roe v. Wade

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
July 1, 2022 1:41 p.m.

Several universities reassure students and employees of ongoing reproductive health protections in Oregon. Two large private universities with religious ties stay quiet.

Hundreds gathered in downtown Portland to protest a leaked draft opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court indicating they would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Hundreds gathered in downtown Portland to protest a leaked draft opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court indicating they would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the right to abortion should be determined by individual states, some universities and colleges in Oregon are assuring students and employees that their access to reproductive health services won’t be affected.

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OPB reached out to Oregon’s two largest private universities — George Fox University and University of Portland, both of which are religiously-affiliated. A George Fox spokesperson said that the university didn’t plan to respond publicly to the ruling. UP has not provided a statement to OPB after repeated requests.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, determining that a person’s right to seek an abortion is not protected nationally. The decision overruled nearly 50 years of legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade.

A number of Oregon’s public universities and private colleges sent emails to their respective campus communities over the last week, following the Supreme Court action.

Some of the state’s public universities acknowledged the gravity of the ruling and its likely impacts on people in campus communities, while staying relatively neutral. Statements often urged community members to be respectful of differing opinions and plainly stated that the right to have an abortion is still intact in Oregon.

Rick Bailey, Jr., Southern Oregon University’s president, called the court’s decision a “seismic shift” for reproductive rights in an email to SOU students and employees Monday.

“Many members of our SOU family are gravely concerned about the effects of this decision, as well as its potential impact on other landmark rulings,” Bailey wrote.

He encouraged campus community members to share their feelings about the decision with respect, “rather than harmful actions or rhetoric.”

Farther north up Interstate 5, University of Oregon President Michael Schill shared similar sentiments last Friday, the day the ruling was announced.

“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.”

A statement from officials at Western Oregon University in Monmouth this week also acknowledged that people may have a range of reactions to the court’s decision, while emphasizing that exchanging different viewpoints is part of higher education.

“We understand that individuals will have different moral, ethical or legal responses to these recent developments. We acknowledge that across American institutions, the marketplace of ideas is perhaps most important on a university campus,” the university said. “Nonetheless, Western Oregon remains firm in our commitment to the freedom to chart one’s own destiny and the liberty to pursue one’s dreams.”

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All of the universities that issued statements following the ruling stressed that access to abortion and other reproductive healthcare in Oregon remains unchanged.

“In 2017, Oregon codified abortion access in House Bill 3391, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which requires Oregon private health insurance plans to cover abortions with no out-of-pocket costs, including being covered by the Oregon Health Plan,” Oregon Institute of Technology President Nagi Naganathan explained in an email to his campus community on Saturday.

The private Pacific University in Forest Grove sent out a similar message to its students and employees last week.

“Oregon law continues to protect an individual’s right to access abortion and other reproductive healthcare services,” incoming Pacific University President Jenny Coyle wrote in her message. “The Supreme Court ruling does not change this law.”

Statements ahead of the court’s decision

Oregon’s largest public university, Oregon State University, issued a statement early last week — in anticipation of the court’s action.

OSU Interim President Becky Johnson wrote that the university would approach the outcome of the court’s decision in a way that’s “consistent with its mission — by contributing to learning through rigorous scholarship, research-based evidence and facts, enabling discussion and providing community service.”

Johnson focused on learning and engagement activities around the court’s decision. She said the university plans to invite the OSU community to talk with faculty experts to learn more about the court’s actions and the issues involved.

“In historic moments such as this, higher education institutions like OSU play important roles by providing research based information and enabling community conversation,” Johnson said. “We encourage you to engage in learning, ask questions and think critically about this important matter.”

Other colleges and universities around the state initially made statements when plans of the Supreme Court’s action were leaked last month.

Reed College President Audrey Bilger spoke strongly in support of Roe v. Wade in a message out to campus early last month.

“I fervently believe in the rights supported by Roe v. Wade; however, others on campus may disagree. I will speak my views, but cannot speak for all of Reed,” she wrote. “I can and will assert and protect the rights and privacy of our most vulnerable community members.”

Lewis & Clark Vice President for Student Life and soon-to-be university president, Robin Holmes-Sullivan, also wrote a message to campus about concerns following the initial leak in May.

“Lewis & Clark is committed to equality and personal autonomy, as well as to caring for and supporting all of our students, faculty, and staff,” Holmes-Sullivan wrote. In response to the leaked draft ruling, Holmes-Sullivan called out “a potential erosion of our nation’s commitments to those shared values.”

A few Oregon universities — both public and private — have made no public statements addressing either the leaked draft or the ruling itself last Friday.

Along with George Fox University and the University of Portland, by late Thursday, Portland State University, Eastern Oregon University and Linfield University had not issued any statements responding to the ruling.

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