RICHMOND, Va. -- Thousands of Virginia students joined a nationwide movement to walk out of class Monday and voice their support for abortion rights. In the week since a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn the constitutional right to abortion became public, advocacy groups across the issue have been in high gear.
The student-led Generation Ratify helped organize the walkouts in Virginia. They were planned at 45 schools across the Commonwealth, the organization said.
In Henrico County, school leaders said 1,145 students took part at six schools. At Richmond’s Open High School, more than 100 of the 200 students at the school walked into the parking lot to rally and speak on the importance of abortion rights.
“Speak up that we do not stand for this, that we do not want this,” student Drew Benedetti, an organizer of the rally, said of the leaked opinion’s potential outcome.
Legal experts said if Roe vs. Wade is overturned as the draft opinion states, the legality of abortion would be an issue for individual states.
“I’m so proud. I’m honestly just floored,” said Felix Hedberg, who helped organize the walkouts across Virginia. “I found out the day before I had to take an exam that the draft leaked, and I was scared. I was scared for my sister, for my family, for me, and for all my peers. We’re scared, but we’re going to work passed that fear. We’re going to work to make sure Virginia codifies Roe v. Wade.”
Although abortion would remain legal in Virginia, Hedberg and others at the Open High rally said they fear this signals a beginning of an effort to roll back reproductive rights.
“They can minimize an issue by making it political and by not telling the stories of people. So, we’re trying to break with that narrative,” she said. “Needing access to birth control, people who have had abortions before, people who have been sexually assaulted. It was just really beautiful to see people advocate for each other.”
Given the gravity of the potential SCOTUS ruling, advocacy is cutting both ways on the issue.
Hannah Wolfe works for Students for Life of America, working with students on dozens of Virginia university campuses to talk about resources available other than abortion. Wolfe said their work has stepped up in the days since the leaked document came to light.
“Letting people know what our plan is in a post-Roe America,” Wolfe said. “Everybody knows who Planned Parenthood is, but not everybody knows the pregnancy help center that’s literally five minutes away from them, sometimes within walking distance from them, they don’t realize how much is available to them for free from these places.”
Wolfe believes life begins at conception but is very much aware others strongly disagree on the topic, especially in this charged moment.
“There’s this idea that being pro-life is anti-woman, and that’s not the case at all. We believe that being pro-life is being pro-woman. Like I said, I want to open that conversation; I want to invite people in. I want to hear what they think, and I want to share what I think,” Wolfe said.
As for the school’s role in walk-outs during school hours, CBS 6 requested information from the four largest school districts in Central Virginia. Spokespersons from both Henrico and Chesterfield provided statements.
“Some students chose to participate in a walkout in regard to recent Supreme Court news. This was not a school-sponsored event. However, school staff worked throughout this time to ensure students were safe. It is important to note that anytime a student leaves campus without permission or does not return to their classroom when redirected, their behavior is managed per the Code of Student Conduct,” wrote Chesterfield Schools Spokesman Shawn Smith.
Henrico County School officials sent the following message to school staff and families Monday:
“Students across the nation – including some in Henrico County Schools – have indicated that they plan to walk out of class today to make their voices heard on the Supreme Court discussion of Roe v. Wade.
While the school division continues to be supportive of students and their right to demonstrate peacefully, we will neither condone nor support the act of leaving school grounds without permission during the instructional day. We expect students will attend classes for the full day.
Students who need to leave school grounds during the instructional day must provide a written note signed by a parent or guardian in order to receive an excused absence. Students who leave school grounds without permission may face a consequence in accordance with the Code of Student Conduct.
School Board policy precludes employees from engaging in any activity supporting or opposing a partisan political cause while on duty, while on school property during school hours, or while representing the school division. Our staff remain committed to monitoring students in class and on campus grounds to ensure a safe and orderly school environment.
If you have specific questions or concerns about your student, a school administrator will be happy to speak with you.”
A final opinion on Roe vs. Wade from the Supreme Court is expected in either June or July, according to Chief Justice John Roberts.