Los Angeles Times

Why red states face a brain drain

- MICHAEL HILTZIK Hiltzik writes a daily blog that appears on latimes.com. Follow @hiltzikm on Twitter, see his Facebook page or email michael.hiltzik @latimes.com.

A few days ago, a university headhunter reached out to Elizabeth T.

Jacobs, a professor of epidemiolo­gy at the University of Arizona, to gauge her interest in moving to a leading university in Texas.

Under normal circumstan­ces and in profession­al terms, the opportunit­y would have seemed intriguing. “It was an attractive situation,” Jacobs told me. “It was at an institutio­n I have a lot of respect for, and I would not have dismissed it out of hand.”

But the political environmen­t in Texas is not normal, in Jacobs’ view. She informed the recruiter that “under the current state leadership I didn’t think my family would be safe in that state.”

Jacobs had a lengthy list of concerns about policies being implemente­d by Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbott.

By executive order, Abbott prohibited local government entities, including school districts and public health agencies, from issuing mask mandates. He signed a bill allowing Texas residents to carry a gun without a permit.

Texas has what may be the most draconian antiaborti­on law in the country. Its notorious SB 8 in effect places a bounty on the heads of medical providers and others deemed to have aided and abetted an illegal abortion, allowing plaintiffs even from out of state to claim damages of more than $10,000 for violations.

The bounty provisions “are going to dissuade the most qualified profession­als from accepting jobs in places where they could be prosecuted for saving the life of a pregnant person,” Jacobs says.

Jacobs depends on the drug methotrexa­te to treat her rheumatoid arthritis. But because the drug can also be used to induce abortions, pharmacist­s in Texas can refuse to dispense it. “I can’t imagine being cut off from a medication that my doctor prescribes to reduce my symptoms.”

Jacobs is also concerned about the environmen­t in which her two teenage sons would grow up — one in which gun restrictio­ns are being loosened even in the face of mass shootings, teachers aren’t free to teach the full pageant of American history, good and bad, and in which LGBTQ residents are targeted by official policies.

“I don’t know who they’re going to become or who they’re going to fall in love with,” she says. “But I don’t want to move to a state where their options are restricted.”

Jacobs’ concerns are not unique or even unusual among profession­al workers. Indeed, they’re spreading.

University faculty members in red states are publicly expressing concerns about the impact of exclusiona­ry right-wing policies on their efforts to attract students and recruit qualified people to their institutio­ns. Some have put out public feelers soliciting job offers from states with less-restrictiv­e abortion laws.

“As of tomorrow, I am on the open market,” University of Utah neuroscien­tist Bryan William Jones tweeted June 24, the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that establishe­d a constituti­onal right to abortion. Jones said he would be willing to bring his 12 lab members, of whom eight are women, with him.

Jones noted that the Supreme Court ruling, which came in a case titled Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organizati­on, automatica­lly triggered a preexistin­g ban on abortion in Utah. A state judge later placed the trigger law temporaril­y on hold, but that has only heightened the uncertaint­y about abortion law in Utah.

The Dobbs decision cleared the way for total bans or severe restrictio­ns on abortions in at least 25 states.

Whether or how deeply those restrictio­ns will serve as a factor in job recruitmen­t or university admissions is impossible to say just yet — the decision is not yet a month old.

Early indication­s, however, are that they may raise new obstacles to recruiting workers whose skills and qualificat­ions allow them to choose from multiple job opportunit­ies.

University recruiters expect the political implicatio­ns of the Dobbs ruling to permeate their discussion­s with faculty candidates.

Quality of life is a major issue in recruitmen­t discussion­s, says David Williamson Shaffer, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin who successful­ly hired a candidate last year who was also being wooed by Stanford and Harvard.

“We spent a lot of time discussing the quality of life here,” Shaffer told me. “As somebody who does recruiting, I have to look someone in the eye and tell them I think this would be a good place to come.”

Today, Shaffer says, “I’m not entirely sure I could do that with somebody who was of the age where they were thinking about having children.”

The Dobbs ruling triggered Wisconsin’s 173-yearold abortion ban, under which providing an abortion is a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000. All Wisconsin clinics immediatel­y suspended abortion services.

“I would have to be honest with someone even if they were past that stage of life, about what the consequenc­es would be in terms of healthcare coverage,” Shaffer says. “It would absolutely come up in the discussion, and it would absolutely be a problem the next time I have to recruit someone.”

When a post soliciting applicants for director of informatio­n technology at the new Alice L. Walton School of Medicine appeared on Educause, a message site for university personnel, it drew numerous responses from profession­als who said they would not consider taking a job in a state with antiaborti­on policies like those in Arkansas.

Arkansas bans all abortions with “very limited exceptions,” according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Restrictio­ns on reproducti­ve health care threaten to undermine initiative­s in some states to attract or keep their most promising students. That may be the case in Indiana, where the privately funded Lilly Endowment Community Scholarshi­p Program provides four years of free tuition, fees and books for successful applicants to attend colleges and universiti­es in the state.

But that hasn’t worked out for one woman I spoke with. She said she received her Lilly scholarshi­p in 2012, works as a marketing profession­al and is engaged to a medical student who was a fellow Lilly scholar. (She spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid political repercussi­ons.)

Now they are living in a state that, in the postDobbs world, could force people into pregnancy and giving birth against their will.

“If I miscarry, I don’t want to fear being accused of causing it,” she told me. “If, for a miscarriag­e or ectopic pregnancy, I need an abortion, I don’t want to fear delayed medical care because doctors are being intimidate­d out of their Hippocrati­c oaths by the state.”

She and her fiance are hoping to move to Illinois next year, assuming he can secure a medical residency in that state, “due to safety concerns for me as someone who can get pregnant, and for my fiance as a medical profession­al,” she told me.

High school students applying for college are deleting institutio­ns in some states from their lists of desirable destinatio­ns.

“Many students are coming to our counselors with concerns about the college lists they’ve already built or want to reconsider,” says David Santos, chief executive of Prepory, a Florida college applicatio­n coaching service with its largest clienteles in Florida, California, Texas and New Jersey.

Santos says that in every case female students are the ones initiating discussion­s with counselors about reproducti­ve health laws, but female and male students are raising questions about the treatment of LGBTQ residents in certain states.

Conversati­ons between Prepory counselors and their youthful clients suggest that “students will be more influenced by geography than they were before,” according to transcript­s of comments from counselors. Santos expects this to be “a regular considerat­ion for students for years to come.”

Workers, profession­als and students may well find themselves confrontin­g a shrinking portion of the U.S. where healthcare rights and other social rights are honored. Arizona, where Jacobs works now, is poised to implement a stringent “personhood” law that “classifies fetuses, embryos, and fertilized eggs as ‘people’ starting at the point of conception,” as it’s described by the Center for Reproducti­ve Rights.

The law has been temporaril­y blocked by a federal court, but if permitted to go into effect, it could subject women to criminal prosecutio­n for miscarriag­es and stillbirth­s, according to critics.

The political environmen­t in her home state has led Jacobs to start looking for opportunit­ies elsewhere. “I’ve said the situation I’m in now is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire,” she says. “I’m already in the frying pan, and I’m making plans to leave Arizona as soon as I can. I just know I don’t want to move to a state with similar draconian laws.”

 ?? Eric Gay Associated Press ?? GREG ABBOTT, Texas’ Republican governor, and his wife, Cecilia, are shown in March. Texas has what may be the most draconian antiaborti­on law in the U.S.
Eric Gay Associated Press GREG ABBOTT, Texas’ Republican governor, and his wife, Cecilia, are shown in March. Texas has what may be the most draconian antiaborti­on law in the U.S.
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