For scientists, Roe’s end raises concerns about personal safety and career choices Science

When the US Supreme Court reversed Rowe v. Wade on June 24, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion and turning abortion access decisions over to state lawmakers, the reaction in the polarized country was swift, dramatic and divided. Many scholars denounced the decision as a potentially deadly violation of human rights. “Abortion bans will kill people in many different horrible ways,” tweeted Amanda Stevenson, a researcher who studies abortion at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Some scientists have also begun to question how the decision will affect the research community, particularly in countries that prohibit or severely restrict abortion.

“It’s really going to have a negative impact on science … if we have scientists actively avoiding half of this country or all of it,” said Rosa Laffer-Souza, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience based in Washington, D.C., who is considering how the decision will affect her upcoming faculty job search. She and others expressed fear that not having an abortion option would make it difficult for aspiring scientists to become pregnant. “I’m really worried that this will affect people’s ability to write their own destiny,” says MD-Ph.D. student at the University of Texas, who requested anonymity.

The Supreme Court’s reversal is likely to be felt most strongly by groups already underrepresented in science, said Nicole Williams, director of outreach for the nonprofit 500 Women Scientists. “Being an African-American woman and just knowing the statistics — that black women giving birth already have high rates of pregnancy-related mortality — the reversal of Rowe vs Wade is a death sentence for black women scientists and birth attendants.”

These concerns have led some scientists to reconsider their career plans and their stance on where they wish to live and work. The Texas MD-Ph.D. student, for example, is considering dropping out after completing her program because of the state’s strict abortion laws. “It’s really hard. … I love Texas,” she says. Many other researchers of different genders and career stages shared similar stories on social media, saying they would leave or not pursue professional opportunities in states restricting abortion.

Those looking for faculty positions face particular challenges, Lafer-Souza says, because “you don’t have a lot of choice about where you end up in the first place, and now there’s even less choice if you cut out half the states and say, ” Well, I don’t want to live there.” But ultimately, she doesn’t think she’d feel comfortable recruiting interns to join her in a state that doesn’t grant them reproductive autonomy. As a second year Ph.D. student, she became pregnant unexpectedly after her contraception failed. Her subsequent decision to terminate the pregnancy was relatively easy, she says, because she wanted to focus on her education — and she wants the same freedom for others. “Being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term during my graduation would be a significant burden on me and potentially derail my career plans,” she says.

Faculty members already established in affected states struggle with similar questions. “I had to take a mental health day to process everything that happened and deal with the emotions,” says the biomedical assistant, who is based in a southern state where abortion is now illegal in almost all cases. Speaking with Science speaking on condition of anonymity, she is particularly concerned about students at her university who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and may not be able to afford to travel to another state if they need an abortion. “Would I ever have to … send a student of mine to a ‘conference’ in California?” she wonders. “Is this something I should start thinking about?”

She’s not sure she wants to stay to find out. But whether to leave his position is a difficult decision. She is the only racial or ethnic minority in her department and feels she can have more influence where she is than in more liberal states — “both in terms of my votes, but also in mentorship and support, that I can provide to underrepresented minority interns exist here,” she says. “I’m Latina. I’m a woman. And in science, both identities are underrepresented.” But in the fall, she will likely begin applying for teaching positions elsewhere. “Fearing for my safety and well-being — and even more so, that of my students — weighs heavily on me.”

Some university administrators have issued statements expressing support for the reproductive rights of their students and staff. MD-Ph.D. student, for example, says her school administrators sent out an email assuring the community that interns and faculty would be supported as much as possible. But other universities have remained silent, frustrating academics who want to know their employer is paying attention to the issue. The Southern professor, for example, has not received any emails or statements from his university. It “makes me mad,” she says.

Scientists have also called on their professional societies to take action, particularly regarding conference venues, with some proposing a boycott of meetings in countries that ban abortion. Others rejected the idea, saying it would only hurt scientists in those states. But others argue that this position does not consider the health and safety of those in attendance. “Any person capable of giving birth can have a pregnancy-related emergency at your conference,” tweeted Anna Vlasitz, MD, a neurologist at Northwestern University. “Your event should not be held in a location where your birthing colleagues may be at risk.”

These concerns make sense to Catherine Alves, a social scientist from Rhode Island who is currently 38 weeks pregnant. Last year she had a miscarriage and made the “difficult decision” to take the drug misoprostol to help her body shed the fetal tissue. Her situation was not an emergency, but other pregnancy-related complications that are often treated with abortion drugs, such as an ectopic pregnancy, can be fatal if not addressed quickly. It is unclear whether these drugs will continue to be prescribed in emergencies in all states. “As a pregnant woman,” says Alves, she wouldn’t feel comfortable attending conferences in places where, if something goes wrong, “I can’t get the medical care that I need and that reflects my values.”

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