Reproductive health lawyer, medical students reflect on health care in post-Roe v. Wade U.S.

David Matos, Arts & Life Editor

To discuss the implications of living in a nation where abortion is now illegal in several states, reproductive health lawyer and advocate Jeryl Hayes discussed abortion law in the United States at Quinnipiac University’s Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine on Nov. 3.

Hayes discussed access to abortion, the role of movement building and the state of abortion legislation post-Roe v. Wade, the 1973 constitutional ruling that federally decriminalized abortion. The ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court in June. The discussion was part of the Netter Health Equity Series.

Kizzi Belfon, a second-year medical student, facilitates discussions for the series. Belfon said the Netter Health Equity Series’ events are meant to serve future healthcare professionals and educate medical students about instances of social injustice.

“People really walk away from these conversations feeling empowered,” said Belfon. “It’s what we set out to do with this series. And so it’s really reassuring to feel like we are providing some sort of education and some sort of mindset shifting.”

The conversation focused on the evolving legal conditions for abortion providers as well as the future for aspiring physicians around abortion law.

“No matter how far you want to dig your head into the sand, politics will always kind of affect health,” said Kevin Xia, a second-year medical student who attended the event. “It’s a point that the medical profession doesn’t ignore the fact that these are ongoing issues and they do need to play a role in politics and make sure that people’s health aren’t affected.”

Hayes was chosen for the event from a list of speakers presented to the executive board of the Netter Health Equity Series by the Medical Students for Choice, a national organization with the goal of ensuring that students are fully educated on reproductive health. 

Belfon said Hayes was picked due to her work as the building director for If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, a national non-profit organization of law students and legal professionals that are committed to defending reproductive freedom in the U.S.

“We are committed to doing a meaningful partnership with those who are most impacted and affected by reproductive oppression, which is integral to the goal of achieving reproductive justice,” Hayes said.

The event also analyzed the connection between reproductive and racial justice, as well as the idea that each topic impacts the other.

The term “reproductive justice” was coined in 1994 by a group of 12 Black women in Chicago who believed their demographic and geographic circumstances prohibited their communities from having a choice in their reproductive health, according to Cardozo Law Review. 

“Reproductive justice is a framework that was developed and continues to be led by women of color who noticed that their specific experiences were not being fully represented in either the civil rights movement or the women’s rights movement,” Hayes said.

The Netter Health Equity Series was started during the 2019-20 academic year by Nabiha Nuruzzaman, a 2022 medical school graduate. The student-led series aims to create a space for speakers to discuss and educate primarily medical students on social determinants in health care.

“We’re trying to be able to provide a framework for medical students or all students in the health professions to be able to recognize and respond to social injustices in medicine,” Belfon said.

Belfon started her fall 2021 semester seven months pregnant and said she was cautious about her choice of extracurricular activity. However, she said she jumped at the chance to continue the foundation that was set by Nuruzzaman by joining its executive board.

Paola Peralta, a second-year medical student, said she never connected the coalition between medical professionals and legal rights before she went to medical school.

“When you talk about where the rules and regulations lie, it just seems like a lot you have to read through, and that’s interesting to know how people can navigate that space,” Peralta said.

The discussion with Hayes is the second Netter Health Equity Series event of the 2022-23 school year and its first in-person event.

The event is one of ten events planned for the academic year. Future events will include a mix of workshops and informative talks. The series has not repeated a topic in the last four years, Belfon said.

“Once people have an understanding of these frameworks and understanding of how health inequities (are) present at the individual community and structural levels,” Belfon said. “It really empowers (medical students) to be strong advocates, and I think we see so many health inequities in this series.”