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Audrey O’Donnell: We will not stand to watch our rights slip away as our world becomes more hostile to our bodies



Reproductive rights activist Audrey O’Donnell speaking at a youth-lead, student protest at the Rhode Island State House last Thursday:

“On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court determined in the passage of Roe v Wade that access abortion is a fundamental liberty.. People with limited financial means had been faced with a dangerous choice: many had to turn to high-risk options like self-induced or illegal “back-alley” abortions. It’s scary to realize that in the 1950s 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 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 turnout through the youth organization that I founded with a local community organizer. I’ve 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 healthcare. Reality check: I do. It’s essential that we raise our voices on the issues that affect not only our futures but also the future of our healthcare. 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 a youth organization, I’ve discovered a personal purpose through my youth organization, 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 discovered 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 VOTE! Reproductive freedom is under attack and it is vital 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 who need access to abortion. Queer people, non-binary, transgender, agender, bigender, genderfluid folks, and many more are included in this conversation. So we are here today to stand for everybody who accesses reproductive health care. We must advocate for everyone and protect our right to make our own medical decisions as we step into our futures.

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“Many times at the State House, protestors have yelled that I’m ‘too young to have a say,’ that I’m ‘warped,’ and that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Those experiences have only increased my resolve to stand up for reproductive rights: for not only myself but for 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 in the state of Rhode Island, we’ll 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 our rights slip away as our world becomes more hostile to our bodies. If Roe V. Wade were 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.”

Audrey O’Donnell is a member of our STARS (Students Teaching About Responsible Sexuality) peer education program in Rhode Island and an intern at PPSNE.