The Issue of Abortion at Lakeside Through the Years

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24th, 2022, the precedent of the last fifty years was upended. Yet it’s not as if abortion as an issue was stagnant under Roe. Rather, discussions of abortion and sexuality, public sentiment, and even the Supreme Court’s own opinion on abortion continued to evolve and change over the 50 years that Roe stood. Now, while Lakesiders and the country are still reacting to Roe being overturned and waiting to see what America’s abortion rights landscape becomes, the evolution of the issue of abortion at Lakeside provides some valuable context for the current moment.


The early 1970s was a period of significant change when it came to women’s rights. Referendum 20 legalized abortion in Washington in 1970. Title IX, which prohibited sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools, was enacted in 1972. Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Lakeside, for its part, merged with St. Nicholas School and became co-educational in 1971. After that, though, Quincy A. ‘73 explains: “There weren’t very many women in our class.” With a 3:7 ratio of women to men in the class of ’73, sexism was a prevalent issue on campus at the time. Quincy’s crew coach at the time implied that “girls shouldn’t have muscles… grace only was how we were supposed to win the race.” Quincy also experienced “some sexism from the teachers and that, of course, leads the culture in that class.” Because of these experiences, student conversations centered around issues of sexism, and the topic of abortion (especially for non-sexually active students) was much less common.


According to Ms. Schuyler, Lakeside’s archivist, there are no mentions of abortion being discussed in St. Nicholas’s records or the Tatler archives from that time. Both Quincy and Page C. ’73 say that abortion was a taboo subject on campus: there was no health class where people could learn facts about abortion and very little discussion of current events in history classes. Page says that health information was largely passed down from parents and teachers, and without the internet, students didn’t have opportunities to share information with each other. In Page’s case, at least, those adults weren’t very willing to broach the subject of abortion.


Jumping forward in time, Martina P. ’92 describes the early 1990s at Lakeside as a time of transition, where issues of race, gender, sexuality, and inclusion were “starting to be more openly discussed on campus.” Still, she says that abortion was not a common topic. Martina herself became passionate about abortion after a conversation with her mother, who “saw what happened to families when women did give birth when they didn’t want to” as a social worker.

The March 1992 issue of the Tatler included several articles about abortion, including describing Lakesiders’ personal and emotional stories on the topic. Martina says that this came about because of former Tatler faculty advisor Susan Saunders, who encouraged them to focus some newspaper issues on relevant current events. She recalls that Ms. Saunders had to get approval from the administration to cover abortion and that writers tried to cover abortion from a factual, rather than opinionated, perspective. “We generally felt facts would protect us if there was a kerfuffle over subjects we were covering, but subjects involving sexuality in any way — gay rights, abortion rights — weren’t popular with parents or the administration.”

For that Tatler issue, Martina co-wrote an article about laws requiring parental consent for minors to get abortions. One of those laws from Pennsylvania was being challenged in front of the Supreme Court. That ruling (Planned Parenthood v. Casey) ended up mostly reaffirming Roe v. Wade, although there were also signs that things might change in the future, namely that the court was only a single vote away from overturning Roe. Further, Martina says that the parts of Casey that allowed certain restrictions to continue (parental consent laws, for example) didn’t get much press coverage and that the overwhelming sentiment was relief that Roe hadn’t been overturned. In Martina’s view, this led to complacency: “So many of us had the belief abortion rights had been fought for and won… How naive that sounds now.” 


In the past few years, the presidency of Donald Trump and his appointment of three conservative justices to the Supreme Court brought the issue of abortion rights back to the forefront of political conversation, all leading up to Roe v. Wade being overturned. Many Lakesiders, in the Tatler Poll, still say that they haven’t had many, or any, conversations about abortion at school. Some, however, remember the science of abortion being touched on in Wellness classes, and others said it had been discussed in their History classes. On Lakeside’s culture when it comes to abortion, one respondent wrote that there’s an assumption that most people are pro-choice, but they added, “I always feel a little skeptical that everyone agrees with me and so I get nervous talking about it with other people.”


While Washington state continues to guarantee access to abortion, the decision overturning Roe v. Wade will have profound effects on millions of people. Even in Washington, abortion clinics expect to see a much higher demand from people coming from out of state. In these uncertain times, it’s worthwhile to follow the news and start conversations about the far-reaching effects of the Supreme Court decision.