Yale in a post-Dobbs world
In the wake of the Dobbs decision, Yale students protest the Supreme Court's ruling and push for policy changes as Connecticut officials establish legal safeguards.
On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned landmark cases protecting the federal right to have an abortion — including Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey — in its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization.
At the University, students engaged in preemptive discussions about the decision’s implications and organized protests in response to the decision, which was leaked over a month before the Court’s ruling on May 2, 2022. Less than 16 hours after a leaked copy of the draft majority opinion in the Dobbs case was published in Politico, the student protests came to a head. Over 100 students gathered on Cross Campus to rally in support of upholding the landmark abortion decision established by Roe v. Wade.
Later that same week, Yale students, along with students from 21 other universities, took part in a reproductive freedom protest, marching from the steps of Sterling Memorial Library to the New Haven courthouse in an effort to publicly voice support for Roe.
“We all came together because we were sad, disappointed and angry, and I was surprised to leave the protest energized and hopeful,” protest co-organizer Elaine Cheng ’25 said. “I didn’t quite expect that, but it was magical. Maybe it was because we realized that we weren’t sad, angry and disappointed alone. We were together.”
The Dobbs case centers around Mississippi’s 2018 Gestational Act, which sought to block almost all abortions after fifteen weeks of pregnancy, leading to legal battles with Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi at the time of the case. The clinic initially prevented the law’s enforcement, but the Court’s willingness to hear the case gave it an opportunity to validate the law’s legality.
Though the decision draft did not leak until May 2022, Yale students voiced concerns about the threat the Dobbs case posed to reproductive rights as early as January. The Yale chapter of the Medical Students for Choice organization rallied in support of the protection of reproductive care on the 49th anniversary of the 1973 landmark case.
Siddhi Nadkarni MED ’25 and Kate Callahan MED ’25, first-year medical students and co-leaders of Medical Students for Choice, brought together other organizers, students and faculty members on the green outside Cafe Med to gather in support of reproductive justice.
Nancy Stanwood, section chief of family planning and associate professor at the Medical School, spoke at the rally and urged the crowd of medical students to “be brave” and keep fighting for reproductive rights in light of the new challenges that many of them would face if Roe v. Wade was overturned, including punitive laws aimed at providers involved in providing abortions to patients.
“Abortion care is healthcare. It is critically important for people to be able to direct their lives and dream and live and thrive,” Stanwood said.
On June 24, 2022, the date of the Dobbs decision, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker affirmed the city’s commitment to “ensuring safe, quality access of reproductive care to any New Haven resident that needs it.” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont issued a similar statement that same day in support of abortion rights.
In anticipation of a slew of state laws restricting or criminalizing abortion that would come if Roe were overturned in the Dobbs decision, Connecticut passed a law in April — before the draft decision leaked — that expanded the number of medical professionals authorized to provide a medicinal or aspiration abortion in the first trimester.
The law also established a legal shield against anti-abortion vigilantes in states, such as Texas or Mississippi, that would be able to use their new laws to sue abortion providers in Connecticut that provide abortions to their own residents. The law would, for example, protect the rights of Yale students from these states seeking an abortion in Connecticut.
In the wake of the decision, Yale alums across the country joined current students in protest.
During a Nov. 2 Supreme Court hearing dealing with the Bank Secrecy Act, Yale alumna Emily Paterson ’99 was among three women who interrupted judicial proceedings to oppose the Court’s decision to overturn federally protected abortion rights that had been upheld for nearly 50 years.
The women were charged with a misdemeanor offense of “Speeches and Objectionable Language in the Supreme Court Building” and were then detained for roughly 30 hours in what all three women described as “inhumane” conditions that included suffocating heat, leg irons and waist chains that bound their hands to their waists.
At Yale, student protests took many forms. In addition to the public campus demonstrations that students like Cheng were involved in, Ella Attell ’24 and Zoe Larkin ’24 released a 13-and-a-half-minute film titled “Conservative Women for Conservative Values Presents: Operation Save Yale Now, Our Movie” on Youtube on Nov. 4, 2022.
For the film, the students interviewed Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, for a satirical video on anti-abortion activism, but the students were faced with two cease-and-desist notices. Kristi Hamrick, chief media and policy strategist for SFLA, claims that Attell and Larkin “unlawfully” used the logos of both Yale and SFLA, prompting SFLA to send a cease-and-desist letter asking for the removal of the logo from the video and of any footage of Hawkins that the filmmakers recorded.
“We weren’t trying to humiliate her by any means,” Attell said. “We were trying to take the pro-life agenda and push it to a point that revealed its own absurdity… it had little to do with her and way more to do with the philosophy.”
Activist efforts have been prevalent throughout the University, with students and faculty at the School of Medicine also calling on medical societies to boycott states with abortion bans when deciding where to host conferences.
“As far as the idea of ethical consumerism, why would you bring these tremendous resources to states that are enacting these [anti-abortion] laws?” Cary Gross, professor of general medicine and epidemiology at Yale said.
In October 2021, in anticipation of the decision, the Yale Law School hosted a hybrid discussion panel featuring Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and co-lead counsel on the case, Rutgers Law School Dean Kimberly Mutcherson and Yale Law School professor Reva Siegel ’78 GRD ’81 LAW ’86.
The panelists discussed the decision’s potential to challenge Roe v. Wade and allow states to issue abortion bans. The conversation positioned Dobbs as a direct challenge to Roe.
As the discussion came to an end, one attendee asked the panel about the steps abortion rights advocates should take if the Supreme Court were to uphold the Mississippi law in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
“One of the things we’re seeing … is organizations that are really focusing, one, on state constitutions, and two, on state legislation, so getting these rights enshrined in the states even if the federal government fails us,” Mutcherson responded.
On the state-wide level, in March 2023, Connecticut Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz created a 22-state coalition called the Reproductive Freedom Coalition as a “firewall” for reproductive rights.
Inspired by Lamont and other state governors launching similar reproductive coalitions, this coalition of lieutenant governors representing 165 million people in total will serve as a space for state leaders to share executive orders, legislative ideas and legal strategy.
The group also plans to work with federal legislative and executive leaders to increase healthcare funding to states and protect access to reproductive medication such as Mifepristone, of which a Texas lawsuit is seeking to revoke FDA approval.
Of the current nine justices on the Supreme Court, four attended Yale Law School. Three of these justices — Samuel Alito LAW ’75, Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 and Clarence Thomas LAW ’74 — voted to overturn access to abortion at the federal level in the Dobbs case.