By Leah Block, Spring 2016 Campus Leader at North Carolina State University
My first month as the NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Campus Leader for NC State has been exciting and engaging, to say the least. Being at a more conservative school, I was expecting some pushback from my fellow peers. To my surprise, I have only had positive interactions with my peers on the topic of reproductive justice. It is clear that the tides are turning in women’s favor, but there is still much work to be done.
The best thing about going to a big school is that there is never a shortage of interesting events, speakers, or activities happening around campus. I had the pleasure of representing NARAL Pro-Choice NC at Dr. Joni Frater and Esther Lastique’s “Sex Ed Boot Camp,” which provides students with factual and reliable information on sexual health related topics. College students are a smart bunch, but many come to school with little to no knowledge on sexual health, reproductive rights, and so on. With so many schools in NC teaching abstinence-only sex education, how can we expect students to know about their reproductive rights, let alone sexual rights? At this event, I talked to students about their reproductive rights and resources here in NC. I discussed what NARAL stands for as an organization, and asked students to take the pledge to stand up to the stigma surrounding abortion. I was met with very positive and reaffirming reactions.
February is a great month to talk about sexual health and reproductive rights for it is the month of love, after all! That being said, NARAL Pro-Choice NC and NC State student group P.L.E.A.S.E (Positive, Loving, Empowered Advocates for Sexual Education) teamed up this month to advocate for sexual health and reproductive justice. We spent a full day tabling and flyering in the brickyard– an area on campus with heavy student traffic– talking to students about sexual-health related issues. I had engaging conversations with students about comprehensive sex-ed, abortion waiting periods, and the current political climate of the US. Students appeared very passionate about the issues discussed, and were excited to show their support in the fight against the stigma surrounding abortion. By the end of the day, I was almost completely out of NARAL buttons, and had filled the majority of my petition papers.
Perhaps the biggest recent event regarding reproductive rights was the first set of oral arguments for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. This case, which will decide whether abortion clinics can stay open across Texas, was brought to the Supreme Court this month. The case will decide whether HB-2, the law that closed abortion clinics across Texas, will remain or be overturned. Prior to HB-2 about 70,000 women received abortion care annually in Texas. Now, abortion providers in Texas can only provide about 14,000 abortions per year. In addition, if HB-2 remains in place, many Texan women will be forced to travel up to 150 miles to locate the nearest abortion clinic.
Is abortion really even a right if it is inaccessible? As Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Heeding King’s words, on March 2nd I and thousands of other pro-choice activists took to the streets of DC to voice our support for Whole Woman’s Health. I rallied support from fellow NC State Students and we made the journey up to DC bright and early on March 2nd. Rallying in front of the Supreme Court building, we listened to many inspirational speakers such as abortion providers, clinic escorts, and women who have received abortion care. We chanted over the hateful rhetoric of anti-choicers who stationed themselves directly adjacent to us, many of which attempted to shame the women around them.
Witnessing anti-choice shaming tactics firsthand served as a reminder that the work I and so many others are doing doing is not only important, it is life-saving. Not only are women being harassed for receiving medical care, but the US is now seeing a rise in physical violence and even domestic terrorism as a result of anti-choice rhetoric. As we saw in the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting, some anti-choicers truly believe that women receiving medical care are not deserving of life. It is on each and every one of us to combat this awful notion, and I implore whoever is reading this to speak out the stigma surrounding abortion.