Amherst students walk out to protest rollback of reproductive rights

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  • Amherst high school students show their appreciation for a personal story told by Amherst District 2 Councilor Pat DeAngelis, foreground, during a rally on the town common to protest the Supreme Court's draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

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    Amherst seventh grader Inanna Balkin, center, leads a chant of "my body, my choice," with about 150 middle school students while they wait for a like number of high school students to reach the town common for a rally to protest the Supreme Court's draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Regional High School senior Sophie Sweeting addresses about 300 fellow students during a walkout and rally on the town common to protest the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday. At right is senior Em Grybko with Generation Ratify Amherst, one of the organizers of the local event that coincided with a national day of walkouts. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst seventh grader Beatrix Lawless addresses about 300 Amherst students during a walkout and rally on the town common to protest the Supreme Court's draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst high school freshman Marisol Pierce Bonifaz, right, holds the microphone as seventh grader Inanna Balkin addresses about 300 fellow students during a walkout and rally on the town common to protest the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst high school senior George Meade addresses about 300 Amherst students during a walkout and rally on the town common to protest the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst District 2 Councilor Pat DeAngelis tells a personal story to about 300 Amherst middle and high school students rallying on the town common to protest the Supreme Court's draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst high school freshman Zoey Mordecai addresses about 300 fellow students during a walkout and rally on the town common to protest the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. At right is senior Em Grybko with Generation Ratify Amherst, one of the organizers of the local event that coincided with a national day of walkouts. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst high school students show their appreciation for a personal story told by Amherst District 2 Councilor Pat DeAngelis, foreground, during rally on the town common to protest the Supreme Court's draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst high school freshman Freya Brody addresses about 300 fellow students during a walkout and rally on the town common to protest the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • About 300 Amherst middle and high school students took part in a walkout and rally on the town common to protest the Supreme Court's draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 5/18/2022 8:11:47 PM
Modified: 5/18/2022 8:10:01 PM

AMHERST — Fear and anger are the primary emotions Amherst Regional High School senior Sophie Sweeting has felt since the draft U.S. Supreme Court decision leaked indicating that Roe v. Wade, the landmark case legalizing abortion nationwide, could be overturned.

“I’m very afraid of what’s happening now,” Sweeting said as she addressed hundreds of her peers who were gathered on the town common Wednesday afternoon to support abortion rights.

While Sweeting said she understands that a ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will not affect Massachusetts laws, she will be graduating, and will be leaving to study in Pennsylvania next fall.

“A lot of anger and a lot of fear and I wish I could feel something else about it. But I can’t,” Sweeting said.

Like Sweeting, Zoey Mordecai, a ninth grader at the high school, said she is feeling anger, sadness and terror at the possible Supreme Court decision, adding that restricting abortion access is not about protecting life, but about controlling lives.

“It will affect all of us, but it won’t affect all of us equally,” Mordecai said.

Organized by the student-led Generation Ratify Amherst, students from the high school and middle school walked out of their classes at 1 p.m., marching along North Pleasant Street while holding numerous signs, with phrases such as “We are not incubators,” “A clump of cells doesn’t own my life,” and “Keep your laws off my body.”

As middle schoolers arrived first on the green, they continued chanting “My body, my choice” and “What do we want? Abortion rights! When do we want them? Now!”

Soon after, the high schoolers got there, led by Marisol Pierce Bonifaz, a freshman who founded the local chapter of Generation Ratify.

“This shows how many people are angry and how much work there is left to do to fight for reproductive rights,” Pierce Bonifaz said. She anticipates more actions will be needed should the Supreme Court make the leaked decision official.

The middle school’s effort was coordinated by seventh graders Inanna Balkin and Beatrix Lawless.

“We organized the walkout from the middle school because our rights are being taken away,” said Balkin, whose pink T-shirt, matching her hair color, read “choice.”

Balkin said her great-grandmother nearly died from an illegal abortion in the 1950s. “These people call themselves pro-life, but they are just trying to control our bodies,” Balkin said.

Lawless said any Supreme Court decision restricting abortion keeps down people who get pregnant.

“It’s important to make our voices heard because we will be the most affected by the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” Lawless said.

Those at the walkout also heard from Pat DeAngelis, an elected District 2 councilor, who related her own experience using illicit chemical drugs to induce an abortion prior to Roe v. Wade.

“No girl or woman should have to risk their life to survive in the world,” DeAngelis said. “Women’s rights are human rights.”

DeAngelis observed that abortion was legal in the United States through the 1800s, but by 1910 was banned nationwide, in part, she said, for race-based reasons.

“What the hell happened? Discrimination and white fear are at the heart of illegalizing abortion in America,” DeAngelis said.

For decades after that, only the well-off could get safe abortions, while others did so illegally and in dangerous ways, DeAngelis said.

Several students used the open microphone set up in the middle of a circle of those in attendance.

Grace Robes-Kenworthy, president of the high school’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance, said it is important to recognize that abortion rights are not just a woman’s issue, but a queer issue, a class issue and a people of color issue.

“We have been failed by government, we have been failed by the Democratic Party and we will not stand for this,” Robes-Kenworthy said.

George Meade, a high school senior and member of People of Color United, spoke to how changing abortion laws will impact communities of color. Meade also made a plea to push for laws that enshrine abortion across the country.

“No matter what happens, we have to keep fighting for this,” Meade said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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