Impact of Dobbs: College students navigate contraception challenges

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A recent study revealed the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, with college students expressing anger and fear, facing pressure to switch to effective contraception.

Impact of Dobbs: College students navigate contraception challenges | Image Credit: © freshidea - © freshidea - stock.adobe.com.

Impact of Dobbs: College students navigate contraception challenges | Image Credit: © freshidea - © freshidea - stock.adobe.com.

The decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization to remove guaranteed access to abortion has led to increased vigilance about contraceptive use among young adults and highlighted disparities in access to abortion care, according to a recent study published in Frontiers in Public Health.

Takeaways

  1. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision has led to increased vigilance regarding contraceptive use among young adults and has highlighted disparities in access to abortion care, with a significant impact on reproductive autonomy.
  2. Following the Dobbs decision, several states have restricted or removed access to abortion care, disproportionately affecting young, racially marginalized, and economically vulnerable populations.
  3. A study focusing on college students' perspectives on contraception and abortion post-Dobbs found that many participants were aware of the Supreme Court's decision and expressed opposition, alongside fear, dismay, and anger at the potential implications for women's rights and privacy.
  4. The study revealed a phenomenon described as "gendered compulsory birth control," where individuals capable of pregnancy felt pressure to use specific birth control methods due to restricted abortion access. There was a notable preference for long-acting reversible contraception post-Dobbs.
  5. While participants expressed confidence in their ability to obtain an abortion if needed, the focus was often on having access to effective contraception to avoid the need for abortion care. The study suggested a need for reproductive justice advocates to target US college students.

Following Dobbs in 2021, many states have restricted or removed access to abortion care, significantly impacting reproductive autonomy.Abortion has been denied to an increased number of individuals, with young, racially marginalized, and economically vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted.

Rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion, as well as decreased use of contraception compared to older adults, have been observed in individuals aged 18 to 24 years. Therefore, research on contraception and abortion in this population is vital. Limited evidence has suggested unmet needs in contraceptive access among college students.

To evaluate college students’ perspective on contraception and abortion post-Dobbs, investigators conducted a study consisting of semi-structured interviews held from October 2022 to February 2023. Interviewees included students from a large, predominantly white public university from a southern region with well-documented conservative politics.

Data on patients’ demographic characteristics and history of contraceptive use was obtained through anonymous surveys hosted on Google Forms. Eligible participants who completed the survey were invited through email to participate in an interview conducted over Zoom or telephone and lasting 25 minutes on average.

Participants were aged 18 to 22 years, with 13 women and 7 men included. Of participants, 17 were White, 1 Black, 3 biracial, and 15 heterosexual. A female-centered prescription contraception method was reported by 15 participants, condoms only by 5, and abstinence by 1.

An understanding of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs was observed in most participants, as well as opposition to the decision made. Some expressed a belief that other privacy rights, such as same-sex marriage, may be impacted in the future. Alongside fear and dismay, anger was often expressed by participants.

“From my understanding, it is trying to take away the right of a woman to be able to go and get an abortion on her free will,” one participant, a White woman using an implant contraceptive, said.“Makes me angry. It's scary, as a woman, knowing that that is something that very easily could be a part of my life and knowing that it would be taken away is very scary.”

Among college students, a relief over having access to effective reversible contraception was expressed. Women who were not using a long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) pre-Dobbs considered switching to one post-Dobbs. 

Additionally, many patients felt pressure to switch to or continue using more effect contraceptives. Investigators described this attitude as “gendered compulsory birth control,” when individuals capable of pregnancy feel pressure to use specific birth control methods because of restricted abortion access.

Most participants said they would seek an abortion if they or their partner were pregnant.Confidence in being able to obtain an abortion was expressed by nearly all participants, but most were focused on having access to effective contraception so they would not need to utilize abortion care.

These results indicated a pressure to use LARC among pregnancy-capable college students, as well as anger at the decision made in Dobbs. Investigators recommended reproductive justice advocates target US college students.

Reference

Mann ES, McLennan JA, Broussard K. U.S. college students' perspectives on contraception and abortion post-Dobbs: the influence of socioeconomic privilege and gender inequity. Front Public Health. 2024;11:1274154. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2023.1274154

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