While a conversation may pop up here or there—in a U.S. history lecture, in an English class discussion, or in a brief tangent with a friend—abortion rights are largely left out of Haverford students’ daily chats; mostly, you’ll hear students brawl over sports, movies, or music or recount comical weekend events. Now, with the flood of national attention to reproductive rights in recent weeks, have students felt the water level rise?
National conversation reignited after the leak of an initial majority draft indicating that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade, which decided in 1973 that abortion rights were protected on a federal level by the Constitution. But beyond the walls of specific classrooms, where the dialogue has also arisen to varying degrees, some students have found the discussion entirely missing in Wilson Hall.
Fourth Former Luke Fesnak said, “Minimally, we’ve talked [the leaked draft opinion and abortion rights] in classes, but even then, we’ve beat around the bush. And it’s not mentioned much in private conversations.”
Yet Sixth Former Max Rosenberger describes that he has, in fact, heard discussions surrounding the topic in normal conversations.
“I’ve pretty much heard it being talked about everywhere in the school. I’m not surprised at the amount of people that have been talking about it, just because of how politically charged the issue is,” Rosenberger said. “People just get bored, so they just want to have some drama in their life, especially with the end of the school year and not too much going on. It’s something to talk about and argue over.”
Regardless, Sixth Formers in the history elective, the History of Science, Sex, and Culture report distinct class discussions surrounding reproductive rights. And, in particular, Sixth Former Ben Walt found that these conversations in class have exposed him and others to the dialogue.
“There are a ton of kids in that class that aren’t having those discussions at home—and I’m one of them. I don’t really get those types of talks in my household,” Walt said.
Furthermore, while the class discussions certainly have not been easy, Walt remembers them as greatly rewarding.
“And my parents have always said that it’s so great to hear different parts on the spectrum—different views and different values—for any topic because that’s how you grow as a person,” Walt said. “If you’re not putting yourself in situations where you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to learn. So I feel like I’ve learned so much in that class just from being uncomfortable.”
Dr. Bridget Gurtler, who teaches the elective, also acknowledges the interest that her Sixth Formers have shown in understanding the current events surrounding reproductive rights. But, specifically in a history class, she has also tried to help her students understand the context of the headlines.
“Students, rightfully, had a lot of questions. Starting from a place of curiosity and acknowledging misunderstanding is a great place for growth and allows for coming to a well-educated opinion,” Dr. Gurtler said. “Students have been very interested in Roe v. Wade and its relationship to the 14th amendment and understandings of privacy and what other decisions are based on privacy, like the right to gay marriage, interracial marriage, and access to contraception. They were also interested in what led up to Roe v. Wade, including what the experiences of young women were like in an era where abortion was, for the most part, illegal.”
Case-in-point, in the conversations that Fesnak has participated in, he finds that the younger students—perhaps those who have not yet taken U.S. history or been exposed to opportunities such as the Human Relationships seminar or Dr. Gurtler’s aforementioned senior elective—are uninformed or lack care.
“[those who have strong opinions] either dislike it in general [morally] or can’t form a strong opinion based on their knowledge.”Luke Fesnak ’24
“[Many students in my class] are either indifferent from a lack of knowledge, or being apathetic, or they’re pretty strong about it—[those who have strong opinions] either dislike it in general [morally] or can’t form a strong opinion based on their knowledge,” Fesnak said.
Another struggle in the spaces where this conversation arises is encouraging students to participate.
“I feel like there are kids who might not want to express how they truly feel, which is OK and a part of life,” Walt said. “If you have a good relationship with someone, honestly showing who you really are can make you vulnerable in certain places [in terms of the relationship continuing]. I would say that there are a good amount of kids on both sides of the spectrum that don’t speak their truth.”
Now, nearing three weeks since POLITICO’s initial leak of the draft opinion, some students have found that the initial fervor (even in the classes where discussion about reproductive rights came up) appears to have passed.
“As time passes, the discussion is sort-of waning, simply because there aren’t enough headlines for it,” Rosenberger said.
“Considering that [men] are a part of reproduction, yes, I think that they should [have a voice in the conversation] about abortion, especially since this Supreme Court leak points towards the possibility that some men will become fathers when neither they nor their partners, want to.”Dr. Bridget Gurtler
But, interviewees shared the sentiment that men have a role to play in the conversation.
Dr. Gurtler said, “Considering that [men] are a part of reproduction, yes, I think that they should [have a voice in the conversation] about abortion, especially since this Superme Court leak points towards the possibility that some men will become fathers when neither they, nor their partners, want to. But, I do not mean that men should have a legal right to decide whether to continue or end a pregnancy, since women’s bodies are the ones that bear a pregnancy and its attendant risks.”
Hence, the fact that it takes an unprecedented draft opinion leak and the now very real imminent threat of a half-century old precedent being overturned for there to be a wave of conversation among this largely male population—even more, brief and disparate—presents that reproductive health must be discussed more prevalently on campus.
“I don’t think we’re doing enough [to educate students]. I mean, sophomore year we had a health class with Dr. Vanni where we learned about consent and what’s OK and what’s not, but I think that especially with the abortion talks, it goes way deeper than just protection and sex,” Walt said.
Rosenberger, though agreeing with Walt, also identified a challenge in implementing these topics into the curriculum on a wider scale.
“I don’t think kids would engage [in potential classes or seminars] because I think that kids already have their opinions on it—you’re either pro-life or pro-choice—and those opinions are formed by the media and your family.”Max Rosenberger ’22
“I don’t think kids would engage [in potential classes or seminars] because I think that kids already have their opinions on it—you’re either pro-life or pro-choice—and those opinions are formed by the media and your family,” Rosenberger said. “That’s where the issue, I think, lies in this topic: there’s no room for discussion. There are only arguments.”
Still, Walt believes that, regardless of the heavily controversial nature of abortion and other current social conflicts, perspectives can shift.
“If people go [into discussions] with a hard mindset of whatever they believe is right, I think that it’s not going to end well for whoever it is, and that’s not the way you should go into a discussion,” Walt said. “I will say that was like that in my freshman and sophomore years: I was very set in stone in what I believed in whatever it was. But as I’ve matured and grown, I’ve understood that different views are what makes our society special.”