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Virginia students walk out to support abortion rights

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High school students around Virginia held walkouts Monday in support of abortion access after a leaked draft majority opinion last week indicated the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade.

At Richmond’s Open High School, nearly 200 students walked out Monday afternoon in solidarity with organizers from Generation Ratify Virginia, a youth-led movement that supports certification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution and advancing gender justice.

Felix Hedberg, the organization’s policy director and a junior at Open High School, said during the event that she’s proud of her school because “we’ve always held a tradition of being civilly engaged for a long time — since our inception.”

“I was expecting a lot of people because I know that we’re a school that cares about things like this,” said Hedberg, referring to her classmates who held signs advocating for reproductive rights. “But I did not expect to see almost everyone — I’m very glad and very proud.”

The demonstrations came a week after Politico reported on a leaked draft opinion by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito that indicated that the court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.

Open High was one of roughly 45 schools that planned walkouts on Monday, according to Generation Ratify Virginia, which coordinated the day’s show of support by Virginia students.

Hedberg said it’s an issue that particularly affects Gen Z, or individuals who were born between 1997 and 2012.

A number of Henrico County high schools were also on the list of schools participating in the walkouts. At Henrico High, dozens of students gathered out front by the main office just before 2 p.m., chanting and holding signs, before making their way to the back of the school near the football fields.

Henrico schools spokeswoman Eileen Cox said school officials were aware of the planned walkouts and that a note was sent to parents Monday morning. She estimated about 1,145 students from six Henrico schools participated in the walkout.

“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,” the note said.

It said students who wish to leave school grounds need a signed note by a parent or guardian in order to receive an excused absence. Those who leave school grounds without permission “may face a consequence in accordance with the Code of Student Conduct.”

The note also said 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.”

The day after Politico reported the leak, Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, heralded the news of the court’s apparent stance, writing a blog post titled “The End of Roe v. Wade Appears Imminent!”

Cobb wrote that overturning Roe would send the issue back to states, leading to further political battles.

“If this statement in fact remains in the final decision that’s handed down by the Supreme Court sometime likely in June, it will vindicate decades of legal battles and policies challenging the false premise that Roe was a legitimate ruling,” Cobb wrote.

“But make no mistake, this means that the battle to protect the life of the pre-born is only ramping up as the pro-abortion side will commence an all-out assault on innocent life — the likes of which we’ve never seen before.”

If Roe is overturned, abortion will remain legal in Virginia unless the General Assembly and the governor act to change state law.

Democrats hold a 21-19 edge in the state Senate, and Republicans hold a 52-48 edge in the House of Delegates. All 40 Senate seats and 100 House seats are up for election in 2023.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin said during his campaign that he would support banning abortion at the point when a fetus can feel pain — which states with similar bans have defined as 20 weeks. Youngkin supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is in jeopardy.

Youngkin last week decried the leak of Alito’s draft opinion. He also indicated that he supports overturning Roe.

“I do support the fact that this should be a state decision,” the Republican governor said.

hprestidge@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6945

mfitzgerald@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @MaddyFitzWrites

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