AUSTIN (KXAN) — Students from at least nine schools across Central Texas left their classrooms Thursday afternoon as part of a coordinated walkout to show support for abortion rights.
A nonprofit called The Coalition Austin, a new organization created by students at the University of Texas at Austin, started spreading the word about holding protests and offered help to schools organizing their own demonstrations. Dylan MacAdams and Avery White, two of the group’s leaders, said they suggested the walkouts last for 49 minutes to represent the 49 years since the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision on Roe v. Wade that protects the federal right to abortion.
“They’re just doing this civil disobedience to try and have their voices be heard,” MacAdams, a UT junior, said. “I think all of those different voices coming together to do something like that can and should be really powerful, and I think the message that I just want to be received is just that one of unity and that this is a fight for all of us.”
White said The Coalition Austin began organizing events after the release of a draft Supreme Court opinion earlier this month that would effectively eliminate abortion protections at the federal level and hand authority over abortion access to the states. White called it important to include younger Austinites in the group’s attempts to show opposition to the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“A lot of people who do face the need for abortion are a lot younger, and the people who are really stigmatized against who are looking for abortions and reproductive care are younger,” White said. “Many people are able to conceive from ages 12 and up, so it’s really important that we include those younger people in this fight.”
One of the locations where a walkout is planned Thursday is at Crockett High School in south Austin. Esteban Alvarado, a Crockett senior, said he’ll participate and offered a response to the criticism that he expects to come for doing this.
“I am leaving class, but it is for something that could impact me for the rest of my life,” Alvarado said. “I’m not saying that this one walkout is going to make the Supreme Court change their whole mind. I just really want to bring awareness to it because I already know that if many high schools are doing this and we’re getting coverage on it, then people are going to realize that, ‘Hey, maybe this isn’t a thing we should do.’ Imagine a bonfire, you know. That’s all I want to light is a spark.”
Dozens of students at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in south Austin walked out Thursday afternoon, gathered on the front steps, held up signs and wore green, which is the color adopted by the abortion rights movement two years ago in Argentina.
Nicole Perry, an Ann Richards sophomore, explained why she and her friends wanted to take this step to oppose the possible overturning of Roe.
“Because we can’t vote, this is the only way that we can share our voice,” Perry said. “We don’t have that more direct say in the things that are happening to us.”
She added, “Sometimes the best way to achieve the things that you want to do is to very publicly, very loudly, make your voice heard. Make your demands very clear and show that there are a lot of people who support this. Show that this is not a popular opinion, and just show that we’re willing to work towards our goals.”
It’s unclear whether any students staged anti-abortion protests to counter the messaging of the walkouts.
Cristina Nguyen, a spokesperson for Austin Independent School District, responded to a question about whether students who participated in the walkouts would face any repercussions.
“We respect our students’ right to engage civically on matters important to them, and we will monitor the protest to ensure the safety of our students while outside of class,” Nguyen said. “Any students who choose to miss class as a way of expressing themselves will be counted absent for any classes they may miss.”
If the draft opinion that leaked ultimately reflects the final decision of the Court, it would virtually eliminate abortion access in Texas. State legislators passed a so-called “trigger law” last year that would go into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, making performing abortion a felony.
The case before the U.S. Supreme Court centers on a ban in Mississippi on abortions after 15 weeks. The justices are expected to share their final opinion sometime this summer.