Activism

Students Across Denver Walk Out in Support of Abortion Rights

Green Mountain High School students walked out on May 12.
Green Mountain High School students walked out on May 12. Catie Cheshire
Carrying posters with abortion-rights messages and chanting for an end to the patriarchy and for Justice Samuel Alito to leave the U.S. Supreme Court, students from Green Mountain High School made their way down West Alameda Avenue.

Across metro Denver, high school students walked out to support choice and protest a leaked draft opinion by Alito that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that codified the right to abortion in the country. In addition to the Green Mountain group, students from Lakewood High School, Golden High School, East High School, South High School, Manual High School, Arvada West High School and Denver School of the Arts all left their campuses midday on May 12 to emphasize the importance of abortion rights.

“I’m a person who has a uterus,” says August Caudill, one of the organizers of the Green Mountain walkout. “Thinking about getting pregnant now and not being able to get to something like an abortion is a very scary thing to think about, especially when you think about someone going through a really dangerous pregnancy.”

Caudill, a first-year high-schooler, joined the organizing group at Green Mountain after others were hesitant to make their names public for fear of backlash. No stranger to activism, Caudill has attended protests and vigils for gun control for years, and spoke at a March for Our Lives rally in Denver as a fifth- or sixth-grader.

The local walkouts were inspired by an unsuccessful attempt to organize a nationwide high school lockout. Sienna Mascarenaz, a sophomore at Lakewood High School, says she organized her school's walkout once it became clear that the national push wasn’t going to work, given different time zones and varying school schedules.

“I kind of just took it upon myself to be like, ‘We're going to do it at this time,’” she says. “I started facilitating, giving out all this information, just trying to get people informed to get all the students on board with what was going to happen.” Her efforts worked, and hundreds walked out in Lakewood.

Mascarenaz says she’d just learned about Roe v. Wade in class when the opinion leaked. “It was actually granting women the right to privacy,” she says. “My right to privacy should not be infringed upon by the government, and I think I should have autonomy over my body.”

Rachel Volek, a friend of Caudill's, decided to promote a walkout at Golden High School; she remembers watching a movie about Roe v. Wade in fourth or fifth grade. Now a sophomore, Volek participated in walkouts for school safety after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and STEM School Highlands Ranch, and also advocated for better teacher pay and a fairer dress code for girls at Golden High School.

“You can see how many are affected by this and how many people want to support this,” Volek says of today's walk-out over abortion rights. “Maybe walking out of school isn't that impactful, but it gets our voices heard.”

These student organizers all say they're thankful for the Reproductive Health Equity Act passed by the Colorado Legislature this year, which ensures that people can make reproductive health decisions — including whether to have an abortion — free of government interference. But they also say that they're concerned for those in other states that have already criminalized abortion. The issue isn’t just about them, but about standing up for others’ rights, too.

“Everyone deserves to make their own decisions about their own bodies,” Volek says. “Even though I may not ever have to get an abortion, I want there to be safe and legal access for those who need that type of medical care.”
click to enlarge Before walking down Alameda, Green Mountain High School students gathered in a school parking lot. - CATIE CHESHIRE
Before walking down Alameda, Green Mountain High School students gathered in a school parking lot.
Catie Cheshire
As the Green Mountain students walked, many cars honked in support and passersby cheered them on. A few people were angry, though, calling the students "baby killers."

Caudill isn't deterred by such tactics. “I really feel like this is a way that they’re trying to police people's bodies rather than trying to save any child,” Caudill says, pointing to children held in cages at the border or abused in foster care as ways the country shows disregard for children's welfare. “They only care about them when they’re in the womb.”

The fact that so many high school students walked out shows that young people are ready to respond to the threat against abortion rights, according to Mascarenaz. “Our generation is really compassionate,” she says. “Just because I'm sixteen years old doesn't mean I can't stand up for my rights and I can't speak out against the government. No matter what age you are, you should be able to speak up for your rights.”
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire