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University Health Centers Must Navigate New Abortion Ruling

If a University of Michigan student walks into the school's Ann Arbor health center and learns they're pregnant, the health worker's response is never exactly the same. "It's easy to list: 'Well, you can continue a pregnancy, or you can consider a medication abortion or ... a surgical procedure,'" says Dr. Susan Dwyer Ernst, chief of gynecology at the University Health Service. "But we take those conversations in the context of the human being who's sitting in front of us." In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, Ernst has been thinking a lot about how those conversations with students will change, NPR reports. Michigan is one of several states with long-standing abortion laws that weren't enforced while Roe guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion. Now, as abortion-banning state laws take effect, university health centers across the U.S. are trying to figure out their rights and responsibilities when counseling students. And another thing is adding to the confusion: In some states, it's unclear whether individuals could be prosecuted for helping pregnant students get the resources they need to obtain an abortion, including transportation or funding.

"While some states have laws that specifically make aiding and abetting an abortion illegal, it may still be illegal to do so in other states even if they don't have that language in their abortion statute," says Kimberley Harris, who teaches constitutional law and reproductive rights at Texas Tech University School of Law. States typically have laws that make it illegal to aid someone in committing a crime, like robbing a bank. "If abortion is a crime, it would be illegal to aid and abet someone in procuring an illegal abortion," Harris says. Michigan has an abortion ban still on the books from 1931. The law makes providing an abortion a felony unless termination is necessary to save the woman's life. The law offers no exception for rape or incest. Currently, the state has an injunction in place that keeps abortions legal, but the Republican-led state legislature has asked a state court to overturn it.


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