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Students rally for abortion access at Supreme Court

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March 8, 2016

12:50 PM

50 College of William and Mary students decked in purple traveled to the United States Supreme Court on March 2 to rally for what could be the most important abortion case in recent years. The students joined a mass protest on the steps of the Supreme Court building, which included around 2,000 pro-choice advocates from around the country.

The group was organized by Taylor Medley ’17, the president of the College’s VOX chapter, with support from Marklyn Louis, a community organizer from Planned Parenthood, and Michelle Wooten from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

“For me I think it was really about the fact that the women who would be most affected by this bill … are the people that couldn’t even be there today,” Medley said. “They’re the ones working long hours taking care of families, can’t afford to take off and don’t have the privilege to raise their voice.”

The College group included members of VOX as well as members of other social justice groups around campus.

The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, concerns a Texas state law (HB-2) that regulates abortion access throughout the state. HB2 requires doctors who perform abortions to acquire admitting privileges from a hospital within 30 miles away, and it sets clinical stanards similar to those of surgical centers. The law effectively decreases the available clinics in Texas from 40 to about 10, leaving some Texas citizens more than 300 miles away from legal abortion access.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will clarify the precedent set by Planned Parenthood vs. Casey in 1992, which ruled that states could regulate abortion access for the safety of the mother, so long as regulations do not create an “undue burden” on a woman seeking abortion. As advocates rallied March 2, the eight-person Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning whether HB-2 creates such an undue burden.

According to Medley and others at the rally, the Texas law is motivated not by concern for women’s safety, but by political opposition to abortion.

“I believe that [HB-2] is completely politically motivated, and their aim is to just shut these clinics down,” Medley said. “Abortion is safe and legal under Roe v. Wade, but if abortion isn’t accessible, does that ruling even matter?”

For at least one student, the Supreme Court ruling would hit close to home. Daniil Eliseev ’19, a Dallas native, joined the rally wearing a tan cowboy outfit and carrying a makeshift Texas state flag with the words “Pro-Choice Texan.”

“I think it’s important for people to realize that there’s a lot of support in Texas for choice, but there are also a lot obstacles for voting in Texas so not everyone’s voice is heard,” he said.  “Beyond the fact that HB-2 is an unjust law, there’s not as much access to change it as there should be.”

If the court is split 4-4, then the ruling of the U.S. Appellate Court will stand, upholding the Texas law. If the court rules in either direction, however, it will set a nationwide legal precedent for how states may regulate abortion access.

I’m here today to show that millennials do care about these issues and what our court has to say. — Erica West ’17

Erica West ’17 said that while she hopes HB-2 will be struck down, she worries that the court may me split. She also said that regardless of the court’s decision on this case, it is important to speak out for reproductive health.

“I’m here today to show that millennials do care about these issues and what our court has to say,” she said.

The rally featured various pro-choice speakers, including politicians, physicians and women who had undergone abortion procedures. Pro-choice advocates chanted and held signs saying, “Stop the Sham” and “Not your uterus, not your choice.”

The audience was not completely composed of pro-choice advocates, however. Numerous pro-life advocates also attended the rally. Though the College students did not engage with the pro-life protestors, they did, on one occasion, make some effort to stand in front of pro-life signs. While the tone of the rally was at times combative, there was no outright conflict between protesters.

The rally took place during the argument phase of the case. A decision has not yet been released by the Supreme Court.

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  • Nate Wahrenberger