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While abortion was the most volatile decision made by our Supreme Court last week, SCOTUS made a slew of key decisions over the last few days. These decisions can have far-reaching consequences for students and educators alike.
Carson v. Makin
One case, Carson v. Makin, most directly impacts education by addressing the ongoing debate over public funds for non-secular schools. School vouchers and other choice programs have been gaining great steam over the last decade despite having a 30-something lifespan. This shift in focus has stirred up concern for what the future of public education may look like, if it exists at all. Additionally, there are still unanswered questions about how effectively these programs improve student outcomes.
In Carson v. Makin, SCOTUS affirmed that public money can be used for religious schools, in this case since public options were limited in rural areas of Maine. However, this could have broader ripple effects across our education system. Voucher programs are already threatening public schools, given they can redirect public funds to private schools. Furthermore, there is alarm about the erosion of the separation of church and state when distributing vouchers to fund private schools with religious affiliations.
Carson v. Makin may signal an opening for more aggressive legislation around school choice programs that can further shift funding from public programs. Lastly, as Justice Sotomayor stated in her dissenting opinion, this decision could, by extension, permit discrimination. For example, many religious schools can choose not to admit students on the basis of religious beliefs or sexual orientation, unlike public schools, which are barred from turning away students on such a basis.
Dobbs v. State Health Officer of Mississippi Department of Health
Then, of course, we have Dobbs v. State Health Officer of Mississippi Department of Health, which overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. In the majority opinion, the conservative justices primarily based their decision on the fact that abortion has not been historically considered a necessary right. Therefore the founders would not have intended for the constitution to guarantee women’s right to choose. As a certified educator in history, I would like to remind these men that when the founders wrote the constitution (which ironically did not include judicial review): women could not vote, and Black people were considered property.
Furthermore, their opinion stated that this was ultimately a state’s decision and not up to the federal government to decide. This starkly contrasted their opinion on New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen two days prior, which stated that states have no business regulating issues around the Second Amendment. The overturning of Roe v. Wade is a departure from what SCOTUS has traditionally done – it scales back the rights of citizens (51% of them, in fact) rather than expanding them.
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What Does the End of Roe Mean for Education?
How will overturning Roe impact education? To begin with, our students need access to reproductive healthcare. I have known students who have had abortion procedures for various reasons: they didn’t feel ready, wanted to finish school, or didn’t think they would have the support they needed to raise a child successfully. Regardless of their reason, their ability to choose allowed them to continue their education unhindered.
It has long been noted that access to reproductive health affords women more control of their economic status and future and, in turn, results in less youth and generational poverty. Meanwhile, students in states with total bans or limited access to abortion may be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. As a result, more students will drop out. Forced birth will also disrupt graduations, jeopardize scholarships and post-secondary plans, and delay the ability to join the workforce for students who manage to stay in school.
Skyrocketing childcare costs will only exacerbate this problem. This will undoubtedly impact students who are forced to carry pregnancies to term, but it may also hurt our teachers. With the majority of educators being women, this decision could impact our already growing teacher shortage: poorly paid teachers may have to put their careers on hold if they cannot afford childcare or be forced to leave permanently. No matter if a student (or any individual with a uterus for that matter) was a victim of rape or incest, experienced failed birth control or used none at all, or just simply does not want to pursue a pregnancy – they should be able to pursue that choice.
What’s next for this SCOTUS? We can perhaps take a small sigh of relief that all of the conservative justices explicitly stated in their opinions that Brown v. Board was settled law and a model SCOTUS decision. However, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested three crucial cases could be up for further consideration: Lawrence (gay male sex), Griswold (contraception), and Obergefell (same-sex marriage). These cases would undoubtedly profoundly impact students, their families, and larger communities. Overturning Roe v. Wade may be the first time the court has rolled back rights they had previously affirmed – but I advise you not to get comfortable in thinking it will be the last. Our students deserve to enjoy the same rights their parents were granted and not grow up seeing them attacked and successfully stripped away.
Actions You Can Take
Primary elections are fast approaching. With reproductive rights and school voucher programs being a state issue, this upcoming primary election is an excellent opportunity to vote for candidates you feel represent your views:
For information about how to register to vote, registration deadlines, and primary election dates, you can click here.
If you are interested in donating to a local abortion fund that helps individuals overcome obstacles to reproductive care, you can visit this site. In addition, if you would like to call your representatives about reproductive care access, this resource will help you identify who to call and provides a script for doing so.
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