Dickinson College’s Response to Changing Abortion Laws

Lily Swain '25, Guest Writer

Now, almost three months after the Dobbs ruling, college students are returning to campus for another school year with many students cross state boundaries to attend college, meaning they may not be familiar with how abortion laws now vary from state to state. Abortion laws have not changed in PA, so abortion is still legal, with certain limits.

The PA Abortion Control Act is the current law that covers abortion issues in the state. According to the PA Office of the Attorney General, the PA Abortion Control Act allows abortions through the 23rd week of pregnancy, and further along if the pregnant person’s health is in danger. Both medical and procedural abortions are still legal. 

Dickinson College President John E. Jones noted in an email sent to the Dickinson community on August 4, 2022 that despite the current law in Pennsylvania, some staff, faculty, and students have expressed anxiety about the future of abortion access. However, drawing from his knowledge as a former federal judge, President Jones does “not believe that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will further limit or ban abortions, at least for the foreseeable future.” 

Despite President Jones’ optimism about the state of abortion law in Pennsylvania, further limits or bans on abortion could be passed depending on the outcome of the the race for Governor. The gubernatorial race is competitive, between Doug Mastriano and Josh Shapiro. Currently there is a Republican majority in both houses of the PA General Assembly and Republicans have tried to pass legislation restricting abortion since the Dobbs decision, but the current Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, has vetoed them. 

Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, has said “there has been no more important issue to me than the right to life” and indicated that he would ban abortion if the fetus had a heartbeat. Shapiro, the Democratic candidate, has stated his support for abortion rights.

As governor, Mastriano would have the power to, and very likely would, sign anti-abortion legislation into law. If Pennsylvania were to ban abortions, citizens of the state and surrounding states like Ohio and West Virginia would have to travel hundreds of miles further to obtain reproductive healthcare. 

In an email to Dickinson College students in early August, President Jones reminded students that the “Wellness Center provides a full suite of reproductive health services, including emergency contraceptives.” More specifically, the Wellness Center provides access to the morning after pill, or Plan B, at a discount from general pharmacy prices. To obtain emergency contraception, a student must make an appointment with the nurse practitioner at the Wellness Center. Students can also buy emergency contraception at local pharmacies without prescription if they are unable to access the Wellness Center. 

Jones acknowledged that abortion continues to be a “divisive issue,” and that he encourages students to empathize and have discussions with those who have different viewpoints. One way the college is promoting a respectful exchange of ideas about abortion is by offering two talks during the fall semester. The first is a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) partnership with Penn State Dickinson Law on September 12, which is hosting NYU law professor Melissa Murray and Rutgers University Co-Dean and law professor Kimberly Mutcherson to talk about the future of reproductive justice in America. The second event is on September 15, Constitution Day, where President Jones and Penn State political historian Rachel Shelden will discuss the Supreme Court’s past, present, and future, including the Dobbs decision.

While the official college response was a more neutral one, Dickinson’s WGSS Department released their own statement. The department “condemns the decision,” but, like President Jones, they also impart a more positive message, writing “there is hope, especially as we build on the decades-long work of reproductive justice feminist, antiracist and queer activism.” 

Students on campus had their own opinions about the subject as well. Gabi Morichi ’25 read President Jones’ email and does not believe that the college is doing enough. She noted that in addition to the current resources, that the college “should provide a list of places you can get an abortion in PA,” as well as transportation to abortion centers. But note all students had clear beliefs. When asked if she had read President Jones’ August email about Roe v. Wade’s reversal, Ellie Ward ’25 said that she had not. She felt like she didn’t know enough about the college’s response to changing abortion laws to comment on if Dickinson is doing enough. 

When asked if she would consider transferring if Pennsylvania law were to ban abortions, Ward said that she “wouldn’t transfer for that reason.” However, she also noted that if there were other aspects of the college she unhappy about, the inaccessibility of abortion might push her decision to transfer. Morichi said she would not leave Dickinson for a school in a different state if PA law were to change.