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Scientists predict ‘brain drain’ from states that ban abortion


On Friday, June 24, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court ruling that for decades protected the right to abortion nationwide. Soon after, protesters took to the streets en masse. Meanwhile, many researchers have said via social media that they will try to leave or refuse to accept job offers in the 30 US states where abortion is currently or may soon be illegal.

For example, Bryan Jones, a prominent neuroscientist at the University of Utah job Friday evening that “As of tomorrow, I am on the free market. A well-funded, internationally recognized scientist is accepting offers from academia and industry to leave the state of Utah, taking my team of neuroscientists along if they choose to go with me. I will not put my team in danger.

A post-Roe “brain drain”?

This tweet went viral, garnering hundreds of replies of support and prompting other researchers to make similar wishes. Jennifer Fouquier, a graduate student in computational biosciences at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, tweeted about an exchange with a recruiter who contacted her to encourage her to apply for a job in Texas. Fouquier ultimately refused, noting that the lack of reproductive rights offered by the state would make it dangerous for her. “There were people saying I was using my privilege to avoid those places, but I feel like it would have been more privileged not to say anything,” Fouquier said. The scientist. “I was trying to do my best to take a stand to support people in these areas because I don’t think the Roe v. Wade reversal is the right move.”

Fouquier, who emphasizes that she speaks for herself and not for her laboratory or her institution, adds that in her personal network, many other women have expressed similar feelings. “It’s really hard to see all my friends realizing that they have fewer opportunities now because they don’t feel comfortable moving to these places,” she says. Ultimately, she predicts that a “brain drain,” or mass exodus of academics from abortion-banned states, is likely to occur in the coming years — a sentiment shared by many. those who responded to her and Jones’ tweets. Likewise, in a recent Twitter poll driven by The scientist70% of 41 respondents said the abortion ban would affect their decision to work in a particular state.

“I feel like there’s going to be a huge drop in the number of talented people applying for college and [industry] positions in those areas” where abortion is illegal, says Fouquier. Not only does this mean fewer opportunities, but “it will also make opportunities in places where we feel safe more competitive. So overall it’s going to create challenges on both sides – less opportunity and more competition, which is going to set women back even further.

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Indeed, David Shaffer, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin (UW) in Madison, tells The scientist he fears that he and others at his university will have difficulty recruiting faculty and students because an 1849 Wisconsin state law banning abortion is now in effect.

Before Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court decision that required all U.S. states to recognize same-sex marriages, Shaffer says some UW-Madison candidates would ask about national partnership policies to determine whether or not the university and the region would be a good fit for them. “I don’t see why it would be radically different,” he says.

Shaffer recently tweeted something similar to Jones, indicating he was also open to poaching. He says The scientist that while he partially jokingly tweeted to indicate his ‘deep dissatisfaction’ with the decision, he would seriously consider leaving: ‘Part of it was a really legitimate concern about my ability to do the job I doing here, because of a concern about who we will have as teachers and who we will have as students,” he says, adding that if abortion had been banned in Wisconsin when he accepted his current position, he might have reconsidered his decision. “I can’t imagine that I would show up at a place without worrying about access to medical care,” adds Shaffer. “It’s that simple.”

Adapting to a post-Roe world

It is not known how many scientists will follow up on their announced plans to leave and avoid abortion-banning states or leave the country altogether, and it can take years before the effects show up in enrollment and hiring data. Many may find such statements impractical or impossible to implement. Amanda Meshey, a graduate student in cancer biology at the University of South Florida who tweeted in 2019 that she would leave the country if Roe v. Wade was canceled, says The scientist via email that, despite the great personal risk she now feels, she and her husband do not have the financial freedom to pack up and leave. Plus, she says it would mean giving up both of their doctorates altogether.

“We are both first-generation graduate students, so this trip means a lot to both of us and having to give it up would be heartbreaking,” Meshey writes. “That being said, we are both actively seeking opportunities outside of the United States after completing our PhDs.”

An editorial published in Nature The outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision suggests that research institutes in areas where abortion and reproductive care are prohibited should take four steps to ensure the safety and well-being of their students and staff: provide support for those directly affected by the decision; ensure the continuation of reproductive health research; continue to provide comprehensive medical training for physicians, including teaching abortion procedures; and advocating for evidence-based abortion policy, as many institutions, including Fouquier’s, did in the days following the ruling.

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However, Fouquier says universities in states where abortion is banned can do little to attract her or others who feel what she feels. “They may claim to provide support to women who might need these health services out of state, but the reality is that an emergency abortion is an emergency abortion, and nothing they can do will really keep women safe in these states,” she said. . “Trying to entice women with high salaries to try to go to these places is borderline ethical when you know it can affect our safety.”

As she contemplates her future job searches, Fouquier says she will “do more research on the states I’m willing to move to,” but she suspects that won’t be enough to ensure her sense of security. “It is also frustrating that we have to try to think about what our rights will be in the future in states that are currently safe. Should I research the next politicians in these states? Is it now my responsibility?

Meshey says she would like to see efforts by universities and research institutes “to educate the public about the [life-]save the health care that abortions provide, and I want to see action to restore the rights of people with wombs, so that our existence is not just an incubator.

She adds, “I don’t really know what power universities have to circumvent [the] legislature, but providing resources, support and respecting the privacy of people with wombs when they seek help and finding a way to push back would be a great start.