Megan Dunnigan said she saw “anger” and feelings of “betrayal” percolate through the crowd outside the Supreme Court last week protesting Roe v. Wade’s likely reversal, but she was determined to find a way to harness those feelings into political action.
Dunnigan – a freshman and the co-director of communications for Swing Left GW, a left-leaning political advocacy group – joined hundreds Tuesday in protesting the court’s leaked draft opinion signaling the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protects federal abortion rights. The draft, written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, states the former Roe v. Wade decision was “egregiously wrong” and called for the federal government to return control of abortion legalization to the state level.
More than a dozen students said they felt compelled to protest at the court this week, despite many balancing final exams. Trans and Non-binary Students GW, Persist GW, Sunrise GW and Swing Left GW have mobilized in response to the leaked ruling, attending protests, supporting the demonstrations through social media posts and organizing letter-writing and phone-banking campaigns.
“I was just shocked that this had actually happened,” Dunnigan said. “It’s one of those things that the signs were there that this might happen, and yet actually to have it happen was just still shocking.”
The leaked draft sparked days of protests where thousands of demonstrators, including students and organizations, gathered in front of the court to voice frustrations against the decision that could eliminate decades of federal abortion protections.
Dunnigan said Swing Left is attempting to harness the energy of recent outcry and redirect it into actions to elect federal officials in favor of abortion rights during the midterm elections through phone-banking and letter-writing events. In an Instagram post Wednesday, Swing Left GW condemned the draft opinion and said students should take action with the organization to elect candidates who will support protected abortion rights.
“We had a conversation about ‘How do we be respectful of the fact that this is really damaging?’” Dunnigan said. “This is a really harmful opinion if it becomes law, so we want to acknowledge the severity of the situation and also use it as a moment to remind people that this is why elections matter.”
Dunnigan said Swing Left will continue organizing pro-choice projects like phone banking, canvassing and letter writing to federal representatives throughout the summer. She said the end of the semester will risk stalling the momentum of the fight for abortion justice as students leave campus and have less access to attend protests, but Swing Left members hope their hybrid events and sense of community within the organization will motivate students to stay involved with abortion rights.
“I think that people are hungry for ways to impact or ways to create change around abortion rights and to get involved, and we have that benefit that even though people are leaving, people really do want to get involved and people want to make a change and take action,” Dunnigan said. “And our job is just to hand them a letter and a pencil and say ‘Here, write to a voter in Pennsylvania, and let’s make a difference in the midterms.’”
Persist GW and Transgender and Non-Binary Students of GW both posted to Instagram to encourage people to attend the “#ReproRightsRally” – a rally in support of abortion rights outside the Supreme Court building Thursday afternoon.
Emma Hearns, a freshman majoring in neuroscience, attended a protest outside of the Supreme Court Monday night hours after the decision was leaked and gave an impromptu speech in support of abortion access. She said she returned to the protests Tuesday and spoke about bodily autonomy and constitutionality in front of a crowd because it is critical for young people to be active on the front lines of protesting.
“I was able to just do something on a whim,” Hearns said. “I was really focusing on the first night just about how we really need to be here, we need to show them they cannot take away our rights.”
Hearns said she recently joined GW Reproductive Autonomy and Gender Equity, a student organization dedicated to reproductive advocacy that organized about 10 students to attend the protests. She said she would encourage people looking for ways to support abortion access to call their senators and representatives to advocate for abortion rights, demand the ruling not be overturned and donate to the D.C. Abortion Fund.
“It’s important to educate yourself, and really, if you just take about an hour of research, you’ll be able to understand why people feel so passionately about this and how horrible overturning this decision could be,” Hearns said. “We can stay in front of the Supreme Court for a week straight but nothing is going to be done unless we’re taking it down to community and local points of view.”
Maddy Niziolek – a senior and the co-president of GW RAGE – said RAGE organized about a dozen students through social media to protest the decision at the court Tuesday morning and evening.
“Especially when it comes to abortion, abortion should be available for anyone regardless of where they live in this country, and that is a constitutional right,” Niziolek said. “We’re really just showing the Supreme Court, and also congresspeople, that that’s where we stand and that a majority of the country supports the right to abortion.”
Niziolek said RAGE will educate students on campus about how they can fight for abortion rights and what a future following the reversal of Roe v. Wade might look like. She said the student organization is planning on utilizing their social media platforms over the summer to keep students engaged in fighting for reproductive rights by posting resources students can use to continue the protest from home.
“It’s one of the major goals of RAGE as one of the reproductive justice orgs on campus is to make sure that we are supporting the right to abortion and abortion access,” Niziolek said.
This article appeared in the May 9, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.