While Courts Battle Over S.B. 8, Who’s There for College Students Who Need Abortions?

Updated Monday, Nov. 1, at 12:30 p.m. PT.

While the six-week period continues to come and go for many pregnant people in Texas, college students are helping each other get the abortions and emergency contraception they desperately need.

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Members of Feminists for Reproductive Equity and Education (FREE) at Texas A&M. Along with Emergency Contraceptives 4 Every Campus (EC4EC), the group provides emergency contraceptives, condoms and pregnancy tests on campus.  (Courtesy of FREE)

Attacks on abortion rights across the U.S. are advancing at an alarming rate: 561 restrictions have been introduced since January alone. Since the passage of Senate Bill 8 in Texas, which effectively prevents abortions after the six-week mark (temporarily blocked in a Texas federal district court, then reinstated just two days later), Republican officials in seven states, including Arkansas, Florida and South Carolina, have expressed interest in mirroring the Texas legislation in their own states.

The Supreme Court heard arguments about the ban on Monday, where clinics and the U.S. Department of Justice argued the ban is an unconstitutional violation of the right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade and the Casey v. Planned Parenthood. Even still, the Court has declined to halt the law while it is being discussed.

In the meantime, the six-week period continues to come and go for many pregnant people in Texas. “Every day the Court fails to grant relief is devastating, both for individual women and for our constitutional system as a whole,” wrote Justice Sotomayor in her dissent.

While these battles are fought in the courts, these restrictions are acutely felt by Texans—college students in particular, who face unique challenges, as they may not have the resources or time to travel to another state and stay overnight for the mandatory waiting period in neighboring states like Louisiana and Oklahoma. Around the country, abortion providers are overwhelmed trying to meet the needs of abortion migrants from Texas, as well as those from their own communities.

One 20-year old Texas college student was just under the six-week mark when she found out about her pregnancy, but she was told by clinic staff the fetus had a heartbeat, meaning a Texas clinic could not legally perform an abortion. She worked double shifts to afford her trip to Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana, one of only three abortion clinics in the state.

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Members of Feminists for Reproductive Equity and Education (FREE) at Texas A&M.

At Texas A&M, junior Nimisha Srikanth is advocating for the rights of her fellow students. Srikanth works with Feminists for Reproductive Equity and Education (FREE) and Emergency Contraceptives 4 Every Campus (EC4EC) to provide emergency contraceptives such as Plan B—meant to be taken after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy—and other sexual health resources such as condoms and pregnancy tests on campus. 

Since the passage of S.B. 8, “we’ve definitely seen an increase in requests for emergency contraceptives,” Srikanth told Ms.

Despite some opposition from conservative campus groups, Srikanth says the school is supportive, for the most part. “We know what we’re doing is right … we’re just providing sexual health resources. We are here to empower each other.”


“We know what we’re doing is right … we’re just providing sexual health resources. We are here to empower each other.”

—Texas A&M junior Nimisha Srikanth


Although the passage of S.B. 8 in Texas has drawn national attention to abortion rights, obtaining an abortion in many states was difficult before the bill. “With or without S.B. 8, there are very real barriers to getting access to abortion. And we have the collective power to ease those restrictions,” said Erin Grant of the Abortion Care Network (ACN), the national association for independent abortion providers and their allies.

Abortion Care Network supporters outside the Supreme Court on Nov. 1. (Facebook)

Even in Louisiana, where many Texans are being forced to travel for care, abortion restrictions are strict and difficult to navigate, according to Kathaleen Pittman, director of Hope Medical Clinic. People seeking abortions must receive state-directed counseling, wait a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, and obtain an ultrasound. “It’s kind of ironic, really,” said Pittman. “Because aside from S.B. 8, our regulations are so horrific.”


“It’s kind of ironic, really. Because aside from S.B. 8, our regulations are so horrific.”

—Kathaleen Pittman, director of Hope Medical Clinic in Shreveport, La., one of only three abortion clinics in the state


As courts debate the Texas ban, Grant emphasized the importance of individual action and community organizing:

“Right now is a great time to be involved in your local fund, to drive someone to the clinic who needs a ride, to offer patient care and support but also to help your clinic get a new roof. Help your clinic survive forest fires and Ida; help your clinic to maintain community control over its reproductive health care.”

S.B. 8 has been in effect in Texas since September 1, 2021. During Monday’s oral arguments, abortion providers in the state, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other groups, argued the federal court’s obligation to intervene and block the law.

Exactly one month later, on Dec. 1, the Supreme Court will hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization marking the first time since Roe v. Wade that the court will rule on the constitutionality of a pre-viability ban. The Mississippi law in question bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In the face of widespread legal opposition, activists want you to know they are not giving up.

“We’re still out here, we’re still advocating,” said Srikanth. “And we’re gonna continue to empower the community however we can because reproductive justice is so essential to us.”

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About

Meredith Abdelnour is an editorial fellow for Ms. magazine. She studies English and Environmental Studies at Tulane University and enjoys crossword puzzles.