Student group pushes U to offer abortions on campuses

A handful of universities in California and New York have committed to offer medication abortions. Could Minnesota be next?

Students for a Democratic Society host a protest
The University of Minnesota's Students for a Democratic Society host a pro-abortion protest in Minneapolis on May 4, 2022.
Courtesy Students for a Democratic Society

A student group is demanding the University of Minnesota establish abortion clinics around the state in response to the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in June.

Although abortion is protected in Minnesota, organizers with the group said establishing these clinics is more important than ever due to Minnesota’s status as a sanctuary state, a place where people may travel to get an abortion if it’s no longer legal in their home state.

The group, the UMN chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) shared these demands with university administrators and members of the governing board. They began making phone calls and sending the demands in writing via email in early May, shortly after the drafted U.S. Supreme Court opinion on abortion was leaked, said SDS member Gillian Rath.

“I think the position that we're kind of taking is, yes, abortion is legal for the time being,” Rath said. “Yes, we are still a sanctuary state. But how can we be the most accessible that we can be for the people living here and for the states around us who don't have the same privileges?”

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The University has not yet directly acknowledged their demands, Rath said.

Jake Ricker, a university spokesperson, said in a statement to MPR News in December that it’s the institution’s mission to “provide health care and resident training in comprehensive women’s health care and all forms of contraception.”

It’s unclear whether this includes offering abortions in the future. Boynton Health, the university’s on-campus health clinics, currently offer pregnancy testing, emergency contraceptive, birth control prescriptions, preconception care and fertility evaluations.

“There are several options for reproductive health care available near campus as well. We encourage students seeking medical advice or care to contact their health care provider,” Ricker said in the statement.

Could Minnesota join New York and California universities starting to offer abortions?

SDS currently has around 20 members. Although they haven’t necessarily seen an increase in membership since June, Rath said she’s noticed a general increase in people mobilizing around the issue of abortion in Minneapolis.

Rath said one protest organized by the group this summer had more than 10,000 attendees, a turnout they haven’t seen previously. The group of Minneapolis protesters marched from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on West Bank to the Diana E. Murphy U.S. Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.

This support in Minneapolis seems to match the wider sentiment around Minnesota. Polling results in September indicated 52 percent of Minnesota voters opposed the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Some colleges and universities are moving to make abortions available to students. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Barnard College in New York City and the University of California and California State University systems committed to offering medication for abortions starting in 2023.

Facebook Abortion Pills
The drug misoprostol sits on a gynecological table at Casa Fusa, a health center in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Jan. 22, 2021.
Victor R. Caivano | AP

On June 24, the same day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, UMN President Joan Gabel addressed the decision in a systemwide email to the University of Minnesota.

“We have an obligation…to do all that we can to ensure that all members of our community continue to have access to world-class health care,” Gabel wrote in the email.

While it’s unclear what health care services this obligation encompasses, some students said they want to see Gabel and administration take more concrete action.

“They've yet to make material contributions to addressing the lack of reproductive rights or lack of abortion access for the people in Minnesota, and for people in surrounding states,” said SDS member Sorcha Lorna.

Currently, there are eight abortion clinics serving Minnesota.

“If all five University of Minnesota campuses added abortion services to their clinics, we would increase abortion access in the state by over 60 percent,” said Ashley Taylor-Gougé of the Minnesota Abortion Action Coalition, a group of progressive organizations founded after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

There’s also growing interest in helping students access Plan B. At Loyola University Chicago, the student-led effort called EZ EC begun distributing the morning-after pill to whoever wants it on campus. The morning-after pill prevents pregnancy but does not terminate pregnancy and does not induce abortion. Plan B is already available over the counter at the UMN’s Boynton Health or in a vending machine within Coffman Union.

UMN student group shifts focus from police accountability to abortion

Before this campaign, SDS primarily focused on demanding police accountability. This focus shifted when organizers saw the influx of students and people protesting against the Supreme Court’s decision last summer.

“There was such a huge demand, it was very obvious this was an issue that young people wanted to rally around and so we saw that and took that as an opportunity to kind of gain momentum,” Rath said.

A Students for a Democratic Society protest
The University of Minnesota's Students for a Democratic Society host a protest in Minneapolis on July 2, 2022, after Roe v. Wade was overturned.
Courtesy Students for a Democratic Society

The group is also shifting their attention to crisis pregnancy centers, which Lorna said use religious sentiment to deter people considering an abortion from seeking one. SDS organized a protest at one of these crisis pregnancy centers, First Care Pregnancy Center in Prospect Park, in November.

Advocating against crisis pregnancy centers also gives people something to continue mobilizing around while SDS campaigns for the long-term goal of the University offering abortions.

Rath said organizers understand the campaign is “an ambitious one” and the University may never directly acknowledge or meet their demands. Mobilizing students around reproductive justice and rights is the ultimate goal, she said.

“We can use this opportunity to show the people who have these decision-making powers that the students care about it and that the students want to see progressive change,” Rath said.