How campus activism has changed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision
On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The decision overturned the court’s 1973 ruling on the Roe v. Wade case, which established the right to abortion as constitutional. A leaked draft of the decision in April 2022 caused a national uproar about reproductive rights. Fears arose that the overturn of Roe would result in the immediate activation of states’ pre-Roe abortion bans or cause the creation of new restrictions on abortion access.
Reactions at St. Olaf from the administration to this news have been sparse. President David Anderson ’74 sent one email regarding the subject, entitled “U.S. Supreme Court Ruling,” on June 24. In the email, President Anderson wrote, “It [the Dobbs decision] does not impact state law in Minnesota, where abortion remains legal, nor does it affect our employee healthcare coverage or student health services.” Since then, no further official statements from the administration have been made regarding the decisions.
Student organization St. Olaf Leftists began responding to the Dobbs decision after the leaked draft in April. Leftists partnered with the Student Government Association to give the spring semester Donate-A-Meal proceeds to Our Justice MN, an organization dedicated to providing easy access to abortions. St. Olaf Leftists continued their work this fall by handing out “Plan C” stickers and notecards with QR codes linking to online abortion pills at the Co-Curricular fair. Additionally, the group coordinated a rally in Northfield which took place on Oct. 23 and featured several progressive Minnesota candidates as speakers.
The intensification of abortion conversations is most visible within the increasingly public nature of abortion organizations. Students for Reproductive Rights (SRR) has made a resurgence in the wake of the Dobbs decision after several years of relative inactivity. The SRR Executive team noted in a statement to the Messenger that the organization had to restart entirely this year.
“Last year’s SRR wasn’t really a big presence, and everyone who ran it graduated. So over the summer, we had to hit the ground running,” said Sarah Hilst ’23, an SRR executive.
The organization has struggled to respond to increased demand for issues around reproductive justice on campus. “Because we’re the only club focused solely on reproductive rights, people come to us asking us to fix lots of things like the Wellness Center website linking to the Northfield Women’s Center and having to pay for tampons,” the SRR executives said.
SRR has put on programming regarding abortion access and the election without additional support from the college’s administration, the Wellness Center, or the Taylor Center.
“People have reasons to come to us with their concerns about abortion and other aspects of reproductive rights. However, we’re only three people without systemic support. Pro-Choice Minnesota pays us and provides the club with election outreach materials like pins, stickers, and shirts,” said SRR exec team member Maddie Miller ’24.
Despite these challenges, SRR hopes to continue educating students about abortion. Hilst says that the organization hopes to keep up its momentum after the election, saying, “Our big goal post-election and the overturning of Roe v. Wade is to make sure abortion is accessible in Minnesota given that it has been inaccessible in surrounding states.”
In the opposite camp, the Oles for Life organization has continued their usual tabling events. Co-president of Oles for Life Oscar Lee ’23 spoke to the Olaf Messenger about the change Oles for Life has seen since the overturn. “Within the club, they’ve been happy about how the organization has been. I have noticed that the other said has been tabling and using hallway displays. At least from my perspective, there hasn’t been a huge outburst or reaction against the decision. We just tabled pretty recently, and the conversations went pretty well,” Lee said.
While Lee believes that the club has successfully engaged in respectful conversations about abortion between students who are pro-life and pro-choice, he said the club had experienced some backlash this year. “There have been incidents with our hallway display and people protesting our tabling. I’m not very active on social media, and someone else runs our social media, so it’s possible there’s been a greater presence on social media that I am unaware of,” Lee said.
On and off social media, there have been several responses to Oles for Life, such as attempts to vandalize their hallway display and protesting during the organization tabling in Buntrock on Friday, Nov. 4. A statement from the St. Olaf Leftists urging students not to engage with Ole for Life was spread across social media through Instagram stories. Additionally, printed versions of the statement were displayed on several bulletin boards across campus. The statement read, “Do Not Engage With Oles for Life. Whatever you say only helps them.” It also included a quote from the Equal Rights Institute (ERI), the larger pro-life organization partnered with Oles for Life.
The following is a section of the shared quote: “ERI Staff engage in campus outreaches, giving us an opportunity to field-test new arguments or new ways to communicate old arguments. We love R&D and a college campus is our lab.”
In an interview Lee explained that Oles for Life plans to continue tabling and expanding its work with the Northfield Women’s Center. The Northfield Women’s Center pregnancy crisis center seeks to provide pregnant people with resources to prevent them from choosing abortion. Lee and the Oles for Life team believe they must build connections and support pregnant people in the local community to demonstrate their commitment to life.
The St. Olaf campus, post-Roe v. Wade, has become a site of discourse about abortion. Hallway displays, tabling, and campus organization efforts existed before the Dobbs decision. However, the overturn on Roe has heightened the urgency of conversations about abortions on campus and energized students to organize around the issue.