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West Middle School students hold walkout in support of bodily autonomy

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More than 100 students filed outside West Middle School on Thursday morning to demonstrate their support of bodily autonomy and the right to choose abortion.

Eighth-graders Ivy Westcott and Alyssa Works organized the walkout among their peers. Alyssa said she believed abortion should be legal, especially for those who’ve been “sexually assaulted, raped or are extremely young.”

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Not yet old enough to vote, the young activists gathered in the north courtyard at the school at 11 a.m. Thursday. They held signs with messages such as “Protect abortion access” and “Keep your paws off my body.”

Eighth-grader Josephine Zablow-Moloney questioned why those who can’t get pregnant can decide whether a woman has a child.

“People have been fighting for this for years and still we can’t have our own choices over our own bodies. What is the point? This is supposed to be America – a free country – not where a bunch of old men sit in chairs in an office and make laws just because they’re bored.”

Josephine Zablow-Moloney (wearing a skirt) protests during a walkout for bodily autonomy at West Middle School. (Tricia Masenthin/The Lawrence Times)

Boys came out, too, in solidarity. Seventh-grader Joey Closson stood under a tree holding a sign that read “Abortion is healthcare.”

“Abortion is important. It’s a woman’s right, and we can’t be taking it away from them. It’s against the constitution,” he said.

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Community member and activist Alex Kerr — known for local civic engagement — deemed the rally turnout “amazing” and noted how numbers can strengthen a cause.

“I would say that this is a very, very big statement to adults and everyone in this country that these students have so much power.”

As students started returning to class about 10 minutes into the rally, Ivy said she thought the rally “accomplished a lot and spread awareness” throughout the school and informed them.

Alyssa said people should be able to have an abortion if they get pregnant, “especially if it’s needed.”

“Yeah, it’s their choice, not other people’s choice. It’s your own body. It should be your choice,” Alyssa said.

Not all students who came outside actively participated in the rally.

Outgoing Principal Kathy Branson said she hoped the students who stood up for a cause they believe in felt better for doing so.

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“I’m proud of the kids that chose to do it, that wanted to do it for the right reasons – that know that they can speak up,” she said. “As you saw, not everybody out here was for that purpose, but the ones that wanted to be for that purpose, they feel better about it.”

Nationwide protests have ramped up since last week, when reporting by Politico revealed the U.S. Supreme Court might undo its 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision this summer.

On Wednesday, a bill aimed at creating a federal abortion law failed to pass the U.S. Senate.

Demonstrators plan to gather Saturday in Kansas City, Overland Park and across the country for Bans Off Our Bodies rallies. At least one event, a march set for June 4, is planned in Lawrence.

West Middle School students file outside past Principal Kathy Branson during a walkout for bodily autonomy on May 12, 2022. (Tricia Masenthin/The Lawrence Times)
West Middle School students hold up signs during a scheduled walk out for bodily autonomy on May 12, 2022. (Tricia Masenthin/The Lawrence Times)
West Middle School students rally during a scheduled walkout for bodily autonomy on May 12, 2022. (Tricia Masenthin/The Lawrence Times)

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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