In response to the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, a host of companies in the private sector have announced leave policies and financial aid to accommodate out-of-state travel for abortion care. In contrast, K-12 leaders have remained largely silent.
This is despite the fact that 76% of public school teachers are female, and many of those teachers as well as additional staff and students are of childbearing age.
Considering this, women's rights advocates and education policy experts expect fallout for schools from the decision.
"Banning access to abortion will undoubtedly mean that some people —including young people — will be forced to continue a pregnancy," said Heather Shumaker, director of state abortion access for the National Women's Law Center. "Pregnant and parenting students face substantial educational burdens, a concern that is heightened when people are forced to continue a pregnancy."
In response to the June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a spokesperson from the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, said "this decision will have a profound impact on millions of educators, students, and families across the nation."
Meanwhile, Students for Life Action, a group supporting the overturning of Roe, had a different view. Students for Life Action President Kristan Hawkins said in a statement that the organization is "overjoyed to watch states work to protect their citizens through life-affirming laws."
Schools to experience ‘crises within the larger crisis’
Of the at least 26 states likely to ban abortion in the wake of Dobbs, approximately half do not mandate sex education, according to a comparison of policy data by K-12 Dive. Even fewer use evidence-based programs for sex ed.
Some of these same states are also among those with the highest teen birth rates, when compared to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on teen birth rates by state.
As states work to limit or prohibit abortion, schools should make sexual education and contraceptive access widely available in schools, said Shumaker.
"My focus on Dobbs’ educational consequences is not only on support for students seeking abortions," said David Bloomfield, a professor of education leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center in New York, in an email, "but the extra support that will be needed with the addition of thousands (tens of thousands?) more parenting students (overwhelmingly girls if they stay in school) and, down the road, children from unwanted pregnancies."
Bloomfield labeled this as "crises within the larger crisis of abortion restrictions."
Schools can change policies to support students, staff
Some schools already have programs in place that provide free, on-site child care for teen mothers. In Kentucky's Hardin County Schools, for example, teen mothers get transportation, take a credited hands-on parenting course, and are able to complete their diplomas on a fast track.
Given the Dobbs decision, schools should work to make education a more inclusive place for pregnant and parenting students, said Shumaker. Currently, however, pregnant and parenting students both in states with and without access to abortion, continue to face discrimination that can limit their opportunities, Shumaker said. For instance, they may encounter hostility, low expectations from teachers and administrators, and pressure to leave school, she added.
Punitive absence policies can also push pregnant and parenting students out of school when they have to miss class for medical appointments, childbirth, recovery and child care.
Leave and absence policies, rights for teachers
Providing leave policies for teachers and excused absence policies for students to get abortion care "would be incredibly helpful for people navigating abortion bans in their states," Shumaker added. "However, fear of criminalization and penalization make these helpful policies more complicated — and present an example of how far-reaching and devastating overturning a fundamental right are."
An NEA spokesperson said in an email the organization supports the rights of employees to take all relevant sick and personal leave, as well as job-protected Family and Medical Leave Act leave if needed to travel for "necessary reproductive care."
NEA also called for additional collective bargaining rights to ensure that policies around educators’ health insurance plans, prescription drug plans, sick leave and other benefits support educators across race, place and gender identities.