Students from over 50 schools and universities organize protests for reproductive justice

Students from more than 60 high schools and universities in at least 29 states are holding strikes and student events on Thursday to fight for reproductive justice. The self-dubbed “Student Action Day” is organized by the Graduate Student Action Network, a group formed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade ending federal protections for abortion rights, and the Young Democratic Socialists of America.

The students plan to demand that their school step in and defend their reproductive rights and gender freedom of expression in the absence of action from elected leaders, CalTech graduate student and GSAN founder Rachael Kuintzle told ABC. News in an interview.

GSAN was born over the summer when Kuintzle began emailing student leaders, including graduate student government leaders, union representatives, and advocacy club leaders.

“Right after the Supreme Court ruling in June, I felt really helpless and started reaching out to graduate students across the country…sending them emails and asking if they would like meet and figure out what we can do to get health into the hands of our students as soon as possible. And so what came out of that was this day of action,” Kuintzle said in an interview with ABC News. .

Another student group, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, also separately ran a reproductive justice group that sought to make a difference. So the two groups have teamed up, jointly organizing protests and events, Kuintzle said.

The GSAN plans to send letters to Congress and President Joe Biden on Thursday listing their demands.

In the group’s letter to Congress, they call for safe, legal, and accessible abortion; gender-affirming health care; free contraception of all varieties; and federally mandated sex education, including a standardized curriculum on sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy prevention, and consent.

GSAN is calling on Biden to declare a public health emergency over abortion to ensure abortion pills can be mailed to all states free of charge and to implement a program to send free home pregnancy tests to asks US households to enable early detection of pregnancies.

The letters will be sent by the Student Leaders Group, but students on some campuses are also collecting signatures for petitions listing their school’s specific demands.

Abortion rights activists and supporters march past the Austin Convention Center where the American Freedom Tour with former President Donald Trump is being held on May 14, 2022 in Austin, Texas.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Some of the campuses holding protests or events on Thursday include the University of Arkansas, University of South Dakota, several CUNY system campuses, University of Texas at Austin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Law School.

Nikole Schneider and Danielle Galvin, students at the University of South Dakota, told ABC News they would also fight for health insurance, which they currently don’t have. They plan to set up several booths on Thursday for voter registration, the student health center, school mental health services, Planned Parenthood and a fundraising booth for a student-run group that offers free health services for people without insurance.

Schneider and Galvin said contact with students across the country made them feel like they were making a difference, even though they initially felt alone and helpless after Roe’s overthrow.

“It’s definitely changed the way I think I can influence what’s happening in the country, especially now, just like being part of something bigger,” Schneider said.

Galvin said it’s been eye-opening to hear the support other students across the country are getting from their schools, with those students giving them advice on how to stand up for themselves with their university administration.

A trigger ban in South Dakota prohibits abortions entirely, “unless there is proper and reasonable medical judgment that the performance of an abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman,” according to the law.

The law, which went into effect when Roe was overturned, makes it a Class 6 felony to provide abortion care in the state.

Students at the University of Arkansas have already had a few protests since Roe was ousted, but they hope this day of action will give them a mid-term boost, especially given the tight restrictions on the abortion in the state and attacks on transgender people. , organizer and graduate student Katy Dupree told ABC News.

An Arkansas state law prohibits all abortions except to save the life of the mother, making it a crime for anyone to perform an unapproved abortion, punishable by up to 10 years years in prison.

Dupree said they were having a resource fair complete with a voter registration booth and speakers as well as their student walkout and protest.

“This organization kind of fell into my lap. And it was a very serendipitous and beneficial thing for me, I struggled a lot during the pandemic to figure out if graduate school was something I really wanted to continue pursuing. What if I was happy with what I was studying and really found that standing up for others helped lift me up,” Dupree said.

Student leaders all agreed that the October 6 protest was just a starting point. What started as Kuintzle emailing students across the country has since morphed into a more organized group of graduate students.

“We have a structure, we voted together on a name, we meet regularly, we have operating rules, we are over 50 graduate leaders in over 30 states,” Kuintzle said.

Only 59 campuses chose to publicly list their names on the GSAN website, saying they would participate in the protests, but Kuintzle said there would be events at seven other schools.

The group plans to continue organizing events and advocating for student interests in the future.

“We are committed to fighting for the rights of our students, not just in reproductive justice, but beyond. We seek future action and climate justice and Indigenous sovereignty, we will take action to fight for more allocations higher and better health care coverage for graduate students in the near future as well,” Kuintzle said.