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Students: 'These laws are a travesty'

With the slogan “My body, my choice,” some 200 Ashland middle schoolers, mostly girls, marched to the Plaza Friday for a rousing round of speeches against strict anti-abortion laws just passed in southern legislatures.

Many told stories of sexual assaults and rapes and the dread, suffering, poverty and destruction of life goals that come with laws requiring a girl to carry any fetus to term, even if it came from a rape. Some blasted the new laws as violating the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion.

“These laws are a travesty,” said protest organizer Adena Maher, an eighth-grader. “I know much more about the female reproductive system than these old men who say they’re pro-life. It’s not about preserving life. It’s about controlling women. If you’re forcing young girls to have babies they don’t want, you are just pro-birth.”

Eighth-grader Audrey Churchill told the crowd, “Men should not be making decisions about my body. Don’t call yourself pro-life if girls commit suicide over unwanted pregnancy. A person’s body is not your property to do with as you wish.

“We’re told this (march) is not related to school,” Audrey said, “but if you make abortion illegal, and young girls (face jail or motherhood), it soon will be related to school.”

Cat Gould, the mother of a march organizer, told the crowd that political resistance takes strength, which people must draw from each other and from joining organizations like Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, which just sued Alabama over its new anti-abortion law.

Monique Duval of Talent told the story of having a daughter after she was raped at age 19. “I raised a child of rape, and she looks like someone who hurt me. I love my daughter, but we have a terrible relationship, and it’s not fair for her to be put in that situation. As the previous speaker said, don’t you white Christian f------ males tell me what to do with my body.”

Speakers talked of other hazards, such as death from complications of birth, maiming infections or deaths from “back alley” abortions, unwanted children who never get adopted, isolation from one’s peer group in high school, and the “walk of shame” through pro-life pickets who shout “God hates you.” One speaker added, “We all have the right to be loved and make our own choices and not have to go through that.”

Activist Jessica Sage, a creator of the local Indivisible chapter, told the crowd of her abortion at a young age and her vow never to vote for anyone who isn’t pro-choice. She called on listeners to raise hands in affirmation of that vow, which they did, and led them in a chant, “We will not go back.”

Protest signs read, “Keep Your Policies Off My Body,” “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” “Pro-Choice: the Radical Idea That Women Are People,” and “If It’s Not Your Body, It’s Not Your Decision.” As the crowd dispersed (making way for a climate change rally), condoms were passed out.

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Photo by John Darling Eighth grader Audrey Churchill speaks Friday after Ashland Middle School students walked out of class to protest for women's rights.