Virginia high school students organize walkout in support of abortion access

A student-led group says students from over 40 high schools across Virginia organized a walkout Monday, one week after the leak of a draft opinion suggesting the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade.

The group Generation Ratify Virginia, which describes itself as a youth-led movement “organizing Young Virginians in the fight for reproductive justice,” organized Monday’s demonstrations.

Abby Garber, Generation Ratify Virginia’s state director, said she had been collaborating with other student leaders from her bedroom to organize logistics of the walkouts. Conversations about potential action started last Tuesday afternoon, she said, and 15 schools were committed to walkout out by Tuesday night.

Garber estimates about 1,000 students participated in Monday’s demonstrations. Schools in Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties were among those that participated.

Monday’s walkouts and last week’s report of the draft opinion come amid a legislative push to restrict abortion in several Republican-led states — Oklahoma being the most recent — even before the court issues its decision. Critics of those measures have said low-income and minority women will disproportionately bear the burden of the new restrictions.

An AP-NORC poll in December found that Democrats increasingly see protecting abortion rights as a high priority for the government.

Other polling shows relatively few Americans want to see Roe overturned.

In 2020, AP VoteCast found that 69% of voters in the presidential election said the Supreme Court should leave the Roe v. Wade decision as is; just 29% said the court should overturn the decision.

In general, AP-NORC polling finds a majority of the public favors abortion being legal in most or all cases.

Still, when asked about abortion policy generally, Americans have nuanced attitudes on the issue, and many don’t think that abortion should be possible after the first trimester, or that women should be able to obtain a legal abortion for any reason.

“Our goal is to send the message to Virginia political leaders that Gen Z will not be the post-Roe generation,” Garber said. “We want Virginia to remain a state that is safe for abortion access, as it is our futures on the line, so we must do something about it.”

Virginia allows abortion in the first and second trimesters, but its status as a purple state has made the topic divisive. In a statement after the draft opinion surfaced, Gov. Glenn Youngkin detailed his stance as an anti-abortion governor.

In an emailed statement, Attorney General Jason Miyares said: “Everyone has the right to respectfully and peacefully protest in America. But schools also have the right to administer consequences for missing class.”

Garber said about 20 students joined her walkout at Eastern Mennonite School near Harrisonburg. The walkout was held during lunch, she said, adding that the gatherings looked different from school to school. She also said the group received approval from administrators.

“Many schools have led chants; many schools have ended with calls to action to go email their local representatives and tell them that they support expanding abortion access, because Roe should be the minimum,” Garber said.

Some schools also have demonstrations planned for later in the week, Garber said.

“I really want to emphasize that youth care about this issue,” Garber said. “If we didn’t, this would have never happened. … Gen Z cares about having abortion access readily available.”

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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