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US: Roe ruling ‘latest’ in politics impacting int’l student decisions

In recent years, international students have placed safety as a top priority when choosing where to study. There are now warnings that the US Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade could push students away from red states.
July 13 2022
4 Min Read

The US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling officially put the power to ban or protect abortion rights in the hands of individual states.

The decision limits access to reproductive health care and could cause a drop in international student admission for conservative states, stakeholders have warned.

In recent years, international students’ motivations for choosing study abroad destinations have placed safety as a top priority. Take the QS 2021 international student survey of over 105,000 prospective students that found 54% of students saying safety is their “most pressing” worry. Agents have previously warned that a “growing reputation for gun violence” in some cities is pushing some prospective Chinese away from the US.

Some 40% of respondents to the QS surveyed also said that having access to medical care and a medical center is “extremely important” to them.

There is precedent for international students avoiding red-states. Times Higher Education reported that, during the pandemic, republican states saw a larger drop in overseas recruiting and admissions compared to their democratic counterparts.

“More international students consider whether an institution is in a red state or a blue state”

Politics is becoming a bigger influence on international student’s admission decisions, and it may only grow, with partisanship on college campuses increasing as a concern for educators, according to The Chronicle for Higher Education.

Valeria Renée Rivera, a Study in the USA international student from El Salvador, told The PIE News, “An area’s political environment is something most people will look into before or after applying… I have witnessed several people go for one school over the other based on how safe and supported they feel there.”

Ben Waxman, CEO of Intead, a global recruitment and marketing company for international students and institutions, says that political climate is increasing as a concern for international students coming to the US.

“Ever since the 2016 election in the US in which Mr. Trump ran and won, more international students consider whether an institution is in a red state or a blue state,” Waxman told The PIE.

“It is not a majority of international applicants, but the number has increased. Prior to 2016, we had not seen this as a student consideration. Those students evaluating political leaning tend to align with blue states.”

Many public and private universities in the US have released statements supporting abortion access, like Boston University which has a population of over 10,000 international students. The institution said it will continue to provide pregnancy counselling on campus for the use of any student.

“We have stumbled backward almost half a century by denying women control over their bodies. We can only hope that our society will find a way to move forward once again and extend this protection to all women in our country,” BU president Robert Brown stated.

“I have witnessed several people go for one school over the other based on how safe and supported they feel there”

There is also a growing minority of colleges that support the Dobbs decision, most of these are religious colleges which tend to have smaller populations of international students.

Liberty University, an evangelical college in Virginia, released a statement from its president, Jerry Prevo, noting opposition to abortion. “As Liberty University president, I am proud that we are now officially training the first post Roe v. Wade generation of leaders who will be Champions for Christ to continue to advocate for the life of mothers and their unborn babies,” he said.

LU currently hosts over 700 international students from 70 countries; the application for overseas students to Liberty University states it “reserve[s] their right to discriminate on the basis of religion as far as applicable law will allow”.

This is one example of several religious colleges in the US that have come out in favour of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Future international students choosing to study at a religious university will have to factor in religious discrimination and the possibility of not being supported by their universities if they do end up needing access to abortions.

Not only this, international students in need of reproductive healthcare may have to cross state lines if they are studying and living in a conservative state. Several red states have proposed legislation surrounding this possibility and hope to criminalise inter-state travel for women seeking an abortion outside their state of residence. 

If enacted, this legislation will create many issues of legality, especially for international students who are beholden to federal and state law when living in the US. Data from the Guttmacher Institute shows that in 2014, 16% of all abortions performed in the US were for women born outside of the country. That is roughly 104,000 out of the 652,000 abortions reported for that year.

“I believe red states will lose out on international admissions,” a spokesperson for the privately-owned international recruitment agency, Study in the USA, told The PIE.

“Our recent scholarship winner says that many of her friends back home in Sweden who were considering a semester abroad in the US are now looking at other countries instead, and that’s because of the recent events in US politics.”

“We have stumbled backward almost half a century by denying women control over their bodies”

Overseas education providers may also find themselves in a new and challenging position when it comes to advocating for students’ rights and informing them of what abortion access they may or may not have in their region of study.

According to Amnesty International, overseas organisations are unable to even mention abortion if they receive US global health funding, due to president Trump’s 2017 “global gag rule”. This includes any counselling or education programs offered by those organisations.

Due to this “gag rule”, international students may not even be made aware of new abortion bans by their education provider and without doing their own research, would show up to their university unaware of what their reproductive rights are.

“Many of my friends [in the UK] whose college-age students were considering the US are now reevaluating,” another representative for Study in the USA added.

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