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U.S. Abortion Ban Questions College Plans

FILE: Abortion rights protesters participate in nationwide demonstrations following the leaked Supreme Court opinion suggesting the possibility of overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, in New York City, U.S., 5.14.2022

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide has some students rethinking their higher education plans as states rush to ban or curtail abortion, according to interviews with 20 students and college advisers across the country.

While it has long been the case that some students hesitated to attend schools in places with different political leanings than their own, recent moves by conservative states on issues such as abortion and LGBTQ+ rights have deepened the country's polarization.

For some students, the restrictions raise fears that they won't be able to get an abortion if they need one or that they will face discrimination for gender differences. Others said they worried about facing racial prejudice or being politically ostracized.

"I'm only in high school right now, and I'm still finding out who I am," said Samira Murad, 17, who will be a senior this fall at Stuyvesant High School in New York. "I don't want to move somewhere I can't be myself because of laws put in place."

It is too soon to determine whether such concerns will affect admissions in a measurable way, and evidence from other recent divisive state laws suggests there may be little overall impact.

But in the wake of Roe's overturn, college counselors said abortion has figured prominently in many conversations with clients, with some going as far as nixing their dream schools.

"Some of our students have explicitly stated that they will not apply to colleges and universities in states which may infringe on their access to reproductive rights," said Daniel Santos, chief executive of the Florida college counseling company Prepory.

Alexis Prisco, who is entering her senior year at Eastern Technical High School in Maryland, had planned to apply to her parents' alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

She feels wary, however, after the state enacted a law effectively banning abortion.

"Now my mom has warned me that I need to be very careful when applying to schools in states with trigger laws," said Prisco, 17, referring to bans designed to take effect once the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

Several students raised similar concerns about attending college in North Carolina after the state in 2016 passed a law restricting which bathrooms transgender people could use, said counselor Jayson Weingarten of New York-based Ivy Coach.

Abortion is "a topic of concern for most of the students but not something that’s going to dissuade them from going to one of the most highly selective schools in the country," Weingarten said.

For Maryland high school student Sabrina Thaler, however, the prospect of attending college in a state that bans abortion is unsettling.

"What if I go to a college in a state where abortion is banned and I get raped and then I don’t have the option to have an abortion?"