Analysis Abortion

‘Our Bodies, Our Rules’: New Study Finds College Students Want Easier Access to Care

Katie Klabusich

"My reproductive rights are the same as the girl sitting next to me on the subway. If she can’t afford it then it’s all of our problems.”

A new, in-depth survey of more than 2,000 participants found that young women overwhelmingly want easier access to the full slate of reproductive health care and are afraid they will lose their rights under the Trump-Pence administration.

Published last week, “Our Bodies, Our Rules: College Women Get Real on Reproductive Rights” was written and edited by Katherine Mirani, news editor at Her Campus, in an effort to determine how her peers feel about contraception and abortion following President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Responses to the survey were not uniform; however, Mirani told Rewire that the answers showed participants overwhelmingly think abortion should not be restricted by the government (even if they think there should be limits) and contraception should be more affordable.

“No matter how you spin the numbers, this is what college women want: They want access and choice,” she said. “And, from their answers to the question about Trump, they’re afraid that he really just doesn’t care about them.”

All told, only four women said Trump would positively affect their rights; all four believe abortion is “intrinsically wrong” and were glad to have an anti-abortion president.

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Many respondents were more concerned about others than they were themselves on issues ranging from access to potential punishment for seeking or performing an abortion. “I am confident that I will be able to pay for my birth control in the foreseeable future if Trump repeals that provision in Obamacare,” one respondent wrote, referring to the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act. “But my reproductive rights are the same as the girl sitting next to me on the subway. If she can’t afford it then it’s all of our problems.”

When the responses were tallied, 30 percent said they would terminate an unwanted pregnancy, 29 percent would not, and 40 percent didn’t know if they would. Meanwhile, approximately 75 percent described themselves as firmly pro-choice. Among the “pro-life” or unsure students, very few thought patients (11 percent) or doctors (17 percent) should face consequences should abortion be re-criminalized.

When probed further, even those who consider themselves “pro-life” and who felt there should be consequences for abortion pushed back at President Trump’s notion that women should be punished; if anything, participants thought a fine might be appropriate. Most felt that restrictions should be determined by the medical community, rather than the government.

Most strikingly, 87 answers expressed fear; words like “terrified,” “scared,” and “afraid” each appeared in the open-ended questions multiple times. One woman wrote: “I fear that we are going backwards in progress and these policies target and strip power away from women.”

“I do not feel that I have an equal right to choose what is best for me and I feel greatly oppressed by the decisions and comments [Trump] has made already regarding women,” wrote another anonymous participant.

While nearly a quarter of respondents hadn’t considered whether they themselves would terminate a pregnancy, 69 percent said they would absolutely take a friend to an appointment or otherwise help them access a needed abortion. Among those is Isabela, a pro-choice freshman at the New School who was once “pro-life.”

“After my best friend had an abortion, I realized that being pro-choice didn’t mean needing to change what I think about life and pregnancy, it simply meant allowing every woman the choice to formulate their opinions the same way I had,” she wrote. “I still believe that life begins at conception, and that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the need my best friend had when she made the life-changing decision to terminate her pregnancy. It was the right thing for her to do at the time, and I supported her 100 percent because pro-choice means having the freedom to make my own choice while letting other people do the same.”

“Our Bodies, Our Rules” author Mirani was surprised by how many respondents had not considered these questions until they agreed to fill out the survey.

“One person said: ‘I’ve never been asked these questions before, so thank you for asking me to actually think through my feelings on reproductive rights,’” Mirani told Rewire.

More participants thought about others’ rights in addition to their own; 89 percent—which includes some of those who self-identify as “pro-life”—were sure that they didn’t want to see harsh consequences for patients or doctors who violate current or potential restrictions.

“A lot of women thought ‘Oh there should be some restriction,’ but they weren’t sure how to do that without the government being involved. A lot of people said only doctors should be able to put restrictions on abortion, but then, how do you do that without the government?” said Mirani. “They were really hesitant to say doctors should be punished. They put a lot of faith in medical professionals as people who can help women make these decisions.”

That attitude was prevalent in the follow-up interviews, which gave approximately 30 participants the opportunity to expound on their answers and tell their specific stories.

Kassandra, a graduate of Lawrence University, emphasized that people who seek abortion are thoughtful about the decision and implored bystanders not to impose judgment.

“Sometimes abortion is absolutely necessary (for the life of the mother) and sometimes it is simply the healthiest possible choice for the woman involved due to complex circumstances that no one else can fully understand,” she wrote. “I have had to have one of each procedure during my lifetime. And while I regret neither procedure, they both gutted me and changed my life irreversibly. I have always been pro-choice. But living through the experience made me both more empathetic for everyone who opts to have an abortion and more passionate about preventing situations in which women must make a potentially gut-wrenching choice.”

In addition to shedding light on the attitudes of young people on abortion and contraception, the survey highlights the effectiveness of anti-abortion legislation in affecting mainstream opinions on fetal development, what a “reasonable” restriction looks like, and the uninformed notion that anyone who hasn’t terminated their pregnancy at that point is simply irresponsible.

“I actually was surprised by how many women said they thought there should be a restriction at 20 weeks for example; a lot of women [29 percent] thought that that was a good idea,” said Mirani. “One person said, ‘I don’t think there should actually be a legal restriction, I just think you should know before 20-weeks if you’re going to have an abortion.’”

While only about 1 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks, that five-month marker in a pregnancy has more social than medical relevance. Abortion opponents continue to promote anti-science “studies” that say a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks (the neurological connections required take another two to six weeks to develop) in order to introduce restrictions that disproportionately punish young people, the poor, and those who live in rural areas without a nearby clinic.

A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that it’s likely a fetus is not developed enough to feel pain until at least the 29th week, but this hasn’t stopped 17 states from successfully imposing a ban at 20 weeks’ gestation. Legislators at the state and national level continue to push for “heartbeat bills,” which would restrict abortion to the six-week mark—before many women know they’re pregnant—in part to make 20-week bans look reasonable.

Even though they have been affected by a political climate where abortion is portrayed as an irresponsible choice that can reasonably be restricted, Mirani said the young women she spoke to would want their legislators to know that access to the full slate of reproductive health care is important to them.

“They fear having their choices taken away—especially in the sense that they’re in college and there’s so much ahead of them,” she said. “They just want it to be easier and cheaper across the board to get the birth control that they need and to get an abortion if it’s necessary.”

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