USD’s Students For Reproductive Rights hosted a rally in response to the new abortion restrictions in Texas and students and community members in support of their cause marched from the DakotaDome to Old Main Friday, Sept. 10.
Lexi McKee-Hemenway, president of Students for Reproductive Rights, said the rally was a response to several anti-abortion tweets by Gov. Kristi Noem, along with the recent legislation in Texas regarding abortion.
Kristin Hayward, the manager of advocacy and development at Planned Parenthood and advisor to Students for Reproductive Rights, also attended the rally. Hayward said the number of attendees exceeded expectations.
“I am a professional in this movement, nobody here in this space today is professional,” Hayward said. “They’re here to represent people in the state of South Dakota having their bodies and their choices and what is best for them, so I’m blown away. I was optimistic—I thought there’d be a few people here, but this is just an unbelievable crowd. I’m really, really proud to be here. I’m proud of our work.”
Hayward said she has been working for Planned Parenthood for three and a half years.
“We live in a conservative state so we have had some really terrible bills come our way, but we keep fighting them and keep standing up for what’s right, and we’ll keep doing that for our patients,” Hayward said.
The new Texas legislation is not the first of its kind. Similar laws exist in Georgia, Idaho, Alabama and 14 other states. Destiny Long, vice president of Students for Reproductive Rights, said legislature dictating reproductive rights is unlawful.
“We just think that the government should stay away from our bodies. We feel like we should have a voice. Obviously that’s getting taken away,” Long said.
USD students represent both sides of the anti-abortion and reproductive rights movements. Faith Orcutt is the President of USD’s Yotes for Life. No matter what somebody’s beliefs are, Orcutt said, still have the right to protest.
“I believe that everyone has the right to peacefully protest for whatever they believe in. Although I don’t support (Students for Reproductive Rights) cause, I believe there isn’t anything wrong with expressing your own beliefs. Our group decided to respond with positive and encouraging pro-life messages, not to start an argument, but rather an ongoing conversation,” Orcutt said.
Yotes for Life works closely with pregnancy resource centers, such as ZoeCare in Yankton and the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls. The student organization plans to continue working with these organizations.
“The pro-life cause is important to me because every human life holds significant value and that each life begins in the womb. Every human deserves the right to life, and there are millions of children who have been denied this first and most fundamental right,” Orcutt said. “I stand with this movement because there are millions who cannot stand up for themselves and were never given a choice of their own.”
Along with Students for Reproductive Rights, Yotes for Life has plans to be active on and off campus. Local resources need all the volunteers they can get, Orcutt said.
“This coming semester, we plan to volunteer and work closely with the Alpha Center, ZoeCare and with our local right to life groups to provide pregnancy resources and promote a pro-life culture on campus,” Orcutt said.
McKee-Hemenway said Students for Reproductive Rights has a lot planned for the fall semester including seminars and collaborations with student organizations such as Spectrum and Tiospaye Student Council.
“On top of that, we plan on doing regular tabling, sex trivia nights and more protests. We want to inform people about everything. We’ve got a lot in store for the campus, and we hope that everybody else wants to join us,” McKee-Hemenway said.
Addison Miller represented the USD Political Science League and the Get Out the Yote initiative by helping students register to vote. He said the power lies with people when it comes to democracy.
“We are nonpartisan, and we’re registering voters at political events on campus that want us. Regardless of what they believe, we just want to increase that civil engagement on campus, and we want to continue to provide power to the people in these environments,” Miller said.
Many came in support of Students for Reproductive Rights, whether they were in the student organization or not. USD student, supporter of reproductive rights and Vermillion drag queen Polliesther came to the rally.
“Being a male, even as a gay one, we often take our positions for granted. It’s important to be present in these spaces and not be the dominant voice because this is about reproductive rights,” Polliesther said. “Exposure of this stuff leads to tolerance, and tolerance leads to acceptance, and hopefully that acceptance will turn into people agreeing that this isn’t a pro-abortion thing, it’s pro-health care and it’s a pro having the option to begin with.”