By Kylie Rowland ‘24
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last June, movements across the country sprung up to defend abortion rights. In New York, abortion is legal—but legal does not always mean accessible. Both the Geneva Women’s Assembly and HWS student activists have been organizing and demanding increased access to abortions and other reproductive healthcare in the Finger Lakes. After months of meetings, rallies, and marches, the group won their first win—right here on campus—starting October 1st, Hubbs Health Center will offer Plan B to students in need.
The Geneva Women’s Assembly, a local grassroots feminist activist group, spent the summer organizing around the crisis of pregnancy centers, LGBTQ+ rights, and abortion access through a series of “mass meetings” in Seneca Falls. There, seasoned activists and newcomers alike worked together to talk about and research the reality of abortion access in the region. Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Hannah Dickinson, an organizer of GWA, tells The Herald that the mass meetings “were really a response to the call from socially conscious people across the Finger Lakes to get together, and get to work to fight against the evisceration of our fundamental rights.”
Although Governor Kathy Hochul has claimed that “abortion remains safe, accessible, and legal in New York,” the GWA found that the reality of trying to get an abortion in rural New York is a lot more complicated than it seems. In fact, after contacting local medical providers, the group found that no local health centers provide abortions. Finger Lakes Medical Centers, local OBGYN’s, and Women’s Health Centers all refer patients to Planned Parenthood and cite moral reasons for their lack of reproductive healthcare. But the closest Planned Parenthood offices, those in Canandaigua, Rochester, and Ithaca, are all booked up for months at a time—much too long to wait for a person in need of an abortion.
“Women and all people who need abortions in this country, especially poor and working class people, are counting on us to make New York a real safe haven for abortion seekers. And right now throughout most of central, western, and northern New York, a person has to travel 40 miles or more to access an abortion or any form of gender affirming healthcare.” says Dickinson.
One student attendee of the GWA’s mass meetings, Senior Student Trustee Irini Konstantinou ‘23, added abortion access at HWS to the group’s agenda. After investigating Hubbs Health Center’s reproductive health services as part of a research project last spring, Konstantinou brought attention to the fact that there is no access to abortion medication on campus, despite the fact that other colleges, including all SUNY schools, provide medication abortion to students.
“I started to wonder what, if any, resources I would have available to me on campus in an emergency healthcare situation,” says Konstantinou. “After realizing that Hubbs does not offer holistic, all-inclusive reproductive healthcare, I grew more passionate about rural access to abortion medication and how this lack of healthcare impacts HWS students.”
Konstantinou and the GWA then decided to bring the fight to campus with a “March, Rally Rage for Expanded Abortion Access” event on August 26th. Starting right outside the Scandling Center, students and community members joined together to demand that Hubbs Health Center on campus and Finger Lakes Medical Center in Geneva both provide medication abortion.
Following the march, Konstantinou worked with Becca Barile, the Vice President of Campus Life and Dean of Students, to increase reproductive health services on campus, while Maddi Meyer ’24 and Britta Wilkerson ’24 drafted letters to members of the administration as part of an internship with Professor Dickinson and the GWA.
Meyer tells The Herald, “For HWS to take a stand as powerful as offering medication abortions on campus, it would be leading the way for small liberal arts schools and proving to the world that this school respects, supports, and empowers its female-identifying students. With our choice being threatened nationwide and here in Geneva, we need protection via access, and we need it now.”
On September 21st, just a month after the Rage Rally, HWS students won a bit more access to reproductive healthcare; slipped into a lengthy email about “Health and Wellness Resources,” Campus Life included the news that Hubbs will now provide birth control prescriptions, free condoms, transportation and referrals for reproductive needs, and, most notably, free Plan B starting October 1st.
Despite this lack of communication from Campus Life, Meyer, Wilkerson, and Konstantinou stress that Plan B and transportation to Planned Parenthood are a big deal for students. Professor Dickinson points to the combined efforts of the GWA and HWS students as a reason for success: “student organizers have been instrumental in building the movement for abortion access and queer liberation in the Finger Lakes. By linking the reproductive healthcare needs of HWS students to the fight for abortion access in Geneva, they’ve helped to build a stronger movement and a powerful sense of intergenerational solidarity.”
This is a win on campus, but the fight in the community is far from over, reminds Konstantinou. She says, “while these are great steps in the right direction, the fight for equitable and accessible reproductive healthcare is not over. In Geneva, abortion is still not available on demand. Until we gain full access to abortion, we have an obligation to continue to mobilize for all-inclusive reproductive healthcare in our community.”
Professor Dickinson says that as they continue to put pressure on medical centers in Geneva, the GWA’s next steps will be to send Governor Hochul and lawmakers in Albany a list of demands, “spelling out what, in our view, is necessary to make New York truly an abortions rights safe haven—by ending crisis pregnancy centers; making abortion free, accessible, and delivered with dignity to college students, people in rural areas, poor and working class people, trans and nonbinary people, and anyone who needs an abortion regardless of what state they live in.”
Anyone looking to get involved in the mass meetings or learn about other actions and events in the fight for abortion rights and queer liberation can email email@example.com or follow @geneva_womens_assembly on social media.