Iowa City high school students rally to support abortion rights as the U.S. Supreme Court considers overturning Roe

Lillian Waite speaking on the steps of the Old Capital, Dec. 16, 2021. — Sid Peterson/Little Village

Almost two hundred high school students rallied in the freezing cold at the Pentacrest on Thursday after walking out of school to show their support for abortion rights. The walkout was organized by City High students, but also attracted students from the city’s other high schools, as well as Southeast Junior High. They were joined by a few college-age and other adult supporters.

“This is an info dump,” Lillian Waite told the crowd from the steps of the Old Capitol Building.

With the possible exception of a couple of the adults present, no one on the Pentacrest was alive before the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the basic right to choose an abotion as a fundamental right protected by the Constitution in its decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Facing the almost certainty that the current Republican-appointed majority on the high court will now either overturn Roe or restrict it so sharply as to render it meaningless when they issue their decision in the Dobbs case next year, the City High students who organized the rally wanted to make sure their fellow teenagers understood the significance of what is likely to happen and what they stand to lose.

“An abortion ban would affect more people than the pro-lifers say it would,” Waite, a freshman and one of the main organizers, told Little Village as the hour-long rally began to wind down.

Student gather on the Pentacrest for a rally in support of abortion rights, Dec. 16, 2021. — Sid Peterson/Little Village

Twelve states have so-called “trigger laws” that would immediately make abortion illegal if Roe is overturned. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a further five states are ready to take quick action to ban abortion, if the Supreme Court permits it. Guttmacher estimates a total of 26 states are “certain or likely” to make abortion illegal.

The speakers at the rally discussed the disproportionate impact that existing abortion restrictions have by income and race and the damage that further bans and restrictions could do. They also addressed common fallacies, such as falsely equating the ability to put children up for adoption with true reproductive choice.

Waite said she was inspired to organize the walkout and rally after attending the Dec. 4 abortion rights rally on the Pentacrest.

“Some of the speakers really showed me that I could do more than just show up with a sign for a protest,” she explained.

After that rally, she began working with friends to plan an event that would help inform their peers. They timed the walkout to start at the beginning of their lunch hour.

When asked if they had sought permission from school officials for what they planned, she said, “It was a walkout, so we didn’t want permission.”

Waite said she and the other organizers had only expected about 20 students to join them.

“I’m really surprised,” she said of the event’s turnout.

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High school students on the Pentacrest during a rally for abortion rights, Dec. 16, 2021. — Sid Peterson/Little Village

Even though she was pleased with the turnout, Waite said she’d rather her rights were secure instead of in need of support through marches and rallies.

“I’m too young for this,” Waite said. “I want to be in class right now. I have stuff to do.”

But, she added, until people understand the importance of reproductive rights, she will keep organizing and protesting.