Rhode Island high school students hold “emergency press conference” on reproductive rights

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“My heart sank when I heard somebody express their joy in how the bill wasn’t passed,” said Audrey O’Donnell, a junior at Met High School and an intern at Planned Parenthood, who organized a youth-lead, student protest at the Rhode Island State House yesterday. “After the long nights testifying at the State House, attending and prepping for rallies, canvassing, phone banking – all of the energy put into this work – we were just devastated. I was outraged but I had hope. I said, ‘That’s it, we’re protesting…”

The students were there to advocate for the passage of the Reproductive Privacy Act, a bill that would codify the legal protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law. The bill passed in the House, but failed to pass out of the Senate judiciary Committee as Senators who claimed to be pro-choice during their campaigns flip-flopped on the issue.

The rally outside the State House consisted of three speakers and some high energy chants.

“My uterus is apart of me and it’s not a separate piece that can be more regulated than the guns inside my school,” said Grace Kelley, a junior at Classical High School and a member of the Planned Parenthood Youth Empowerment Organization, which was founded by O’Donnell. “Your opinion on abortion is yours but the moment it takes away someone’s choice is the moment you strip another person of his or their rights. Without choice, who are we? If you take away my reproductive rights it affects every aspect of my being. It may affect my job, my income and it most certainly will affect how I am viewed. They say that you should never worry about what people think about but when I’m forced to be a pawn in the game of ignorant politicians their view of me as a malleable object becomes my life. I will fight for my rights till I have them.

Grace Kelley and Dionitxel

“As Alice Walker once said, ‘The most common way people give up their power is by when thinking they don’t have any.’

“So don’t forget the power that you have… We will continue fighting. We’re here today and will continue to be here and we will continue to fight until another bill is passed or until we get justice for what we deserve…”

“The people who seek to ban abortion are not pro-life,” said Dionitxel, a senior at Classical High School. “They do not care about life. They do not care about children. They do not care about people who don’t identify as being female and yet can still reproduce and they do not care about women.

“On Monday, a 15 year old boy, Guatamalen, died [in] U.S. custody. He is the fifth child to die in U.S. hands since December. As of December it is estimated that there are as many as 15,000 migrant children being held in the U.S., at the risk of being abused and detained in horrible conditions. they do nothing about this.

“They do not care about life.

Dionitxel

“They do nothing about this. They do not care about life enough to reform our criminal justice system. They ignore the obvious racial disparities within it, the way that we feed our black and brown children into privatized prisons. They ignore the criminalization of living, breathing minority children and the way the United States profits off it.

“They will say, ‘Adoption is always an option’ but they do not care enough to acknowledge the broken foster care system. They tell you to have a child even if you are poor and struggling and at the same time make laws that make welfare harder to obtain. They will ignore the issues that lie inside the child support system.

“They will say things like, ‘The aborted child could have found a cure to cancer,’ yet make it harder for children to succeed academically and make it more expensive to get a higher education.

“They say they are pro-life but do not believe the world is dying. They ignore the vanishing landscape as they continue to deregulate businesses so that they are able to regulate our bodies so they can exploit what we have left.

“That’s because they don’t care about life.

“Their goal is to regulate our bodies, strip us of our power, make choices for us that only we can decide…

“…if we let the government tell us what not to do with our bodies we also let them tell us what we have to do with our bodies… It is not the government’s job to tell an individual what we can and can’t do with our bodies. Whether someone aborts or not is none of our business. Why someone chooses to is none of our business.

“Abortion is always going to happen and they’re always going to exist. Making it illegal only prevents safe abortions. We have fought long and hard as a nation and a people for equality and justice and we cannot give anyone the right to regulate our bodies, for they are ours.”

“On January 22, 1973 the US Supreme Court determined in the passage of Roe v Wade that access to abortion is a fundamental liberty” said O’Donnell. “People with limited financial means were faced with a dangerous choice: Many had to turn to high-risk options like self-induced or illegal back-alley abortions.

Audrey O’Donnell

“It’s scary to realize that in the and 60s the United States saw an estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions per year. We can’t risk regressing into those dark times. In 1993 the last time an abortion rights bill passed in the [Rhode Island] House, the Senate committee killed it before it ever got to the floor. This year we’ve made it a step further. Let’s not drag this out another 25 years.

“I’ve been active in the fight to protect our rights since January, when Senator Gayle Goldin introduced the Reproductive Health Care Act. I researched, spoke publicly, testified in committee, lobbied and encouraged youth turn out through the youth organization that I founded with a local community organizer. I learned that those who oppose this movement believe that I don’t have the right as a young person to have a say in my health care.

“Reality check: I do.

“It’s essential that we raise our voices on issues that not only affect our futures but also the futures of our health care. Protecting access is paramount.Throughout my activism work the brilliance of youth leaders has come to the forefront. Who better to lead our future than the very people who are our future?

“As a founder of the youth organization I discovered a personal purpose. I work to advocate for and empower those who may not have voiced their ideas and opinions just yet. I didn’t just help others find their voices I discover my own.

“Today we advise the Senate to pay attention and tune in to their constituents. We are the future, we are your constituents and we will be voting. Reproductive freedom is under attack and it is better that our legislators pass bills protecting reproductive freedom. We follow in the footsteps of the generations of folks who have fought for reproductive access Their lives and their perspectives have brought us to where we stand today.

“It’s time we carried the torch forward. It’s time to stop stigmatizing abortion. I often remind myself that women are not the only people that need access to abortion. Queer people, one binary, transgender, agender, bigender, gender fluid folks and many more are included in this conversation.

“We are here today to stand for everybody who accesses reproductive health care. We must advocate for everyone and protects our rights make our own medical decisions as we step into our futures.

“Many times at the State House protesters have yelled that I am too young to have a say, that I’m warped and that I don’t know that I’m talking about.Those experiences have only increased my resolve to stand up for reproductive rights for not only myself, but everyone around me. I’ve become pretty resilient and I’m going to keep moving forward no matter what they say. If we can prevent our reproductive freedoms from being taken away, the state of Rhode Island will be one step closer to ensuring a better future.

“I’m talking about our bodies. I’m talking about our choice. We will not stand to watch it slip away and our world become more hostile to our bodies. If Roe v Wade is going to be overturned we would face a dark future. It’s time to rise up. We’ve got this, and we will never give up.”

O’Donnell leads the crowd in some chants:

After the speeches outside the protest moved inside. the students found themselves in the Rhode Island State House rotunda, confronted by anti-choice activists, lead by adult men, who took exception to the message of the young students.

The young pro-choice activists moved down the stairs, only to be pursued by the anti-choice activists, and then outside, where at one point a young anti-choice woman pushed a young pro-choice woman. A Capitol Police Officer intervened, but made no arrests, and only delivered stern warnings to both sides.


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About Steve Ahlquist 1030 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com