College Students Are Worried That Anti-Abortionists Will Rat Them Out

“I would not be surprised if these groups become more bold with Roe.”

When Nimisha Srikanth, the president of a reproductive justice group at Texas A&M University, was performing her requisite background checks on potential club members last year, she noticed two applicants were following anti-abortion groups on Instagram.

“I immediately denied their request. They don’t have access,” the 21-year-old public health major said. She runs Feminists for Reproductive Equity and Education Aggies at the university. (Students at A&M are referred to as “Aggies.”)

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It wasn’t the first time anti-abortion organizers tried to infiltrate the group. Members of different anti-abortion groups repeatedly tried to gain online access via chat groups and social media in 2020. A previous FREE Aggies president said some used fake names but were quickly caught because their identities didn’t match their Zoom accounts. Anti-abortion people have also previously approached FREE Aggies tables on campus and demanded debates about abortions.

“We have said multiple times—we have it on our website—that we are not a debate group and we will refuse all requests to debate,” said Srikanth. “I would not be surprised if these groups become more bold with Roe.”

The precautions are more important than ever. In June, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to an abortion—and leaving the legal status of abortion in disarray in Texas.

Since last September, Texans who help someone get an abortion past roughly six weeks of pregnancy could face hefty lawsuits. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Texas’ attorney general said that people could also be “criminally liable for providing abortions” under an abortion ban that dates back to the 19th century but remained unenforceable under Roe.

Next week, an abortion ban triggered by Roe’s fall will officially go into effect, turning most abortions into a first-degree felony.

At this point, students belonging to groups that help their peers access reproductive health services—whether by providing emergency contraception, useful information, or by connecting them to groups that help pregnant people access abortion—are unsure how the next year will shape up. But as students head back to school, many organizers worry they’ll be criminalized for their work. 

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“I’m definitely scared,” Srikanth said. “I don’t want a criminal record for sharing information or giving someone emergency contraception so they don't have to go through a potential situation.”

Srikanth said she’s also concerned her anti-abortion peers will take it upon themselves to police her group. 

“Unfortunately FREE has groups that are very ‘anti-us’ on campus and looking for any chance to rat us out and get us in trouble with administration—and now criminalize us,” she told VICE News.

Sameeha Rizvi and Echo Nattinger serve on the University of Texas at Austin Senate of College Councils. The two joined other student leaders and organizers to put out a statement of demands to university administrators, which includes the expansion of sex education and protections for reproductive justice student groups by committing to their First Amendment rights to free speech. 

While they haven’t heard about anti-abortion activists surveilling rights groups, “it’s horrifying that organizers have to face this while just trying to help,” Nattinger said.

Rizvi said it’s on university leadership and administrators to support abortion-rights groups and to help prevent them from being infiltrated. 

A&M spokesperson Kelly Brown told VICE News that the university hasn’t sent out communication about abortion bans and the fall of Roe to students. Brown also said the university doesn’t have an official stance on abortion and reproductive justice, because the school is a public institution.

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“Texas A&M’s Student Health Services continues to provide the same health care services that were provided before the ruling,” Brown said, adding all services “follow the law.”

In the meantime, Srikanth told VICE News she’s determined that FREE Aggies will go on, which might not be a reality for other reproductive justice and abortion-rights groups on campuses across the country. 

“Anything and everything we do now we know we will be highly scrutinized. We have to be way more careful,” Srikanth said, adding that they are sticking to communicating on apps with strong privacy policies. The team will also continue reviewing Texas laws as they change, she said, and adapt their advocacy to make sure everything they do is legal. 

She also said people shouldn’t hesitate to ask other groups for advice, and she recognizes that some initiatives may need to be shut down if it means keeping people safe. 

“We all need to be watching out,” said Srikanth. “Empowerment means squat if something happens to one of us.”

Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.

Tagged:

roe v. wade, abortion, COLLEGE, back to school, reproductive health, supreme court, texas

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