Austin students stage walkout for reproductive rights, call on lawmakers for change

Students at Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders walked out of class Tuesday in a show of support for reproductive rights and to mark the one-year anniversary of the leak of the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the consequential ruling last year that effectively overturned the national right to an abortion.

As part of the demonstration, students called on state lawmakers to listen to young people's voices and heed their recommendations when proposing bills that will affect them.

The students gathered on the school’s front steps to listen to speeches from their peers, including junior Lily Wilson, who said she wants lawmakers to incorporate proven analysis into their proposals and not just political rhetoric.

Students march around the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders during a demonstration Tuesday to advocate for reproductive rights.
Students march around the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders during a demonstration Tuesday to advocate for reproductive rights.

“I am tired of having the same conversations and repeating myself over and over again,” Wilson said. “We are all tired of our lawmakers ignoring the facts. Facts are true whether you ignore them or not.”

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Some students wore green, a color that alludes to reproductive rights movements in Latin America. They walked around the school chanting: “Our rights are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back.”

Nicole Perry, a junior with the school’s chapter of No Place For Hate, an Anti-Defamation League initiative, said students wanted to do something to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision.

“This was important to remind people the urgency is still there,” Perry said.

In its Dobbs decision, the Supreme Court on June 24 ruled that the Constitution didn’t reserve a right to an abortion, essentially overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and returning abortion regulation to states.

At that time, students at the Ann Richards school also held a walkout, said Feyi Oni, a junior and member of No Place For Hate.

“This is still an ongoing problem,” Oni said. “I don’t think anybody should be making rules about what to do with our bodies.”

Students drew on the sidewalk beside Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders during their walkout Tuesday.
Students drew on the sidewalk beside Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders during their walkout Tuesday.

During their demonstration Tuesday, students called out their frustrations with lawmakers. During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers have spent significant time discussing classroom issues and working on bills that narrow how teachers can discuss topics related to sex and gender.

Texas lawmakers have proposed several bills that would place limits on the topics a teacher can discuss with students. Senate Bill 8 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would prohibit districts from instructing students on gender and sexual orientation. SB 165 from Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would require districts to get parental consent before teaching content with violence, profanity, nudity or sexuality.

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However, Oni said that students need to feel comfortable talking about reproductive issues in the classroom. She worries students who don’t have access to sex education in school might go to peers searching for answers and possibly get incorrect or damaging information.

“Students shouldn’t have to resort to those sort of methods,” Oni said. “They should have an open forum.”

Because teachers are confined to a narrow set of topics on reproductive health, students often want more information, said Iris Nicholson, a sophomore who helped organize the student demonstration.

“There was a lot of questions that went unanswered,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson said she is perplexed by legislative proposals to prohibit teachers from talking about gender in classrooms because an adult’s marital status or preferred pronouns are often part of standard introductions, she said.

“How would you introduce people?” Nicholson said.

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Perry said lawmakers shouldn't seek to restrict in-school talk about reproductive health because having a better understanding of the human body helps people make safer choices.

“The classroom is really where people go to learn,” Perry said. “Education is an equalizer. We’re hurting people’s opportunities to get a level playing field.”

The school helped the students coordinate the walkout and assisted with any safety concerns, interim Principal Ramona Trevino said.

“This is the leadership academic,” Trevino said. “We really want them to exercise their voice.”

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin students stage walkout to show support for reproductive rights