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Students are calling on Wash U to take a stronger stance on Missouri’s abortion ban

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Amelia Letson
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Students staged a protest on Washington University's campus in May to call on the university to do more to protect abortion rights after the leaked Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was first reported.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, many universities across the country sent messages to their employees and students supporting or denouncing the ruling.

But in St. Louis, universities largely did not weigh in. Washington University did release a statement, but some frustrated students said it did not take a strong enough position.

“At the very least, we would have liked to have seen a statement of support from the university that the administration cares about the civil rights and freedoms of its student body,” said Sarah Rosen, a Wash U student and vice president of a Planned Parenthood campus organization.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday, Missouri’s trigger ban went into effect. Abortion is now illegal in the state except in cases where the parent’s health is severely threatened. The new legal landscape will have the greatest effect on people who can get pregnant, which includes a large portion of students at colleges and universities.

In the week since the ban went into effect, Harris Stowe State University, St. Louis University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis did not release a public statement or communicate to students and staff about the decision.

Wash U sent a letter to its community Friday, saying it will work to both provide patients with excellent care and facilitate respectful debate on campus. The letter was signed by Chancellor Andrew D. Martin and Dean of the School of Medicine David H. Perlmutter.

“We know there are strong feelings among many in our community who are feeling frustrated, disappointed, and even scared of what this decision may mean,” wrote Martin and Perlmutter. “We also know that, as a university that places great value on diversity of thought and opinion, we are far from homogeneous in our points of view on this or any topic.”

Some students are unhappy with that response.

“That was really disheartening for us because we have been pushing the administration for over a month to take direct action in order to protect the Wash U community, and the surrounding St. Louis community, from the trigger ban that we knew was coming,” said Rosen, a rising junior at Wash U.

Rosen is vice president of Wash U’s chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action, a branch of the national abortion rights organization. In May, after POLITICO reported on the leaked decision overturning abortion rights, Rosen and her organization staged a protest.

Students gathered on the campus holding signs that read “stand up for your students” and “abortion is a bear necessity,” referencing the university’s mascot. Rosen said there were about 300 people at the demonstration.

The students are asking the university to take an official stand to protect abortion rights and "provide Washington University employees with the necessary funds to access abortion care out of the state," among other demands. The group has also launched a letter-writing campaign to try to get a response.

The students want Wash U to wield the power they believe it has in Missouri.

“A statement that the university would make or a stance they would take, we think would have some sway within the legislature,” said Olivia Danner, co-president of the Wash U Planned Parenthood group. “And more than that, I think students just want to know that the university is on their side.”

So far, the students have not received a response from the university. In response to an inquiry from St. Louis Public Radio, a university spokesperson provided the public statement and did not comment on the students’ demands.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke

Kate Grumke covers higher education and the many school districts in the region for St. Louis Public Radio.

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