Credit: Carolyne Sysmans | Mustang News

Some Cal Poly students were among abortion rights advocates who rallied Tuesday, May 21 across the country in protest of several state’s new laws restricting abortion access. Approximately 200 people attended the rally at the San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Last week, Alabama passed the “most restrictive abortion” law in the country, banning nearly all abortions, with no exception for incest or rape. Missouri passed a bill that bans abortions at eight weeks. Mississippi, Ohio, Kentucky and Georgia recently passed “heartbeat bills,” that ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs around six weeks of pregnancy, often before an individual knows they are pregnant. However, abortion is still federally legal by Roe V. Wade, and these bills are not currently in effect.

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Video by Yasi Arami

During the hour-long rally, six women spoke. Two of those women were Cal Poly students.

Cal poly Planned Parenthood Generation Action Vice President and sociology senior Natalie Smith said abortion advocates should continue to persist despite the “safety” of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pro-choice stance. Abortion is constitutionally and statutorily protected in California.

“While we’re lucky to be in a state where our governor values our right to choose and what we do with our bodies and continues to fight to expand and invest in reproductive healthcare including safe abortion access, that does not mean that our rights are safe,” Smith said. “It does not mean that our rights are safe forever. It means that we cannot stop fighting.”

Carolyne Sysmans | Mustang News

These bans come at the same time as the Trump Administration’s final draft of its new rule that makes sweeping changes to the Title X program. Title X of the Public Health Service Act authorized the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to entities to provide family planning services with priority given to persons from low-income families. 

Under the proposed rule, posted by the federal Department of Health and Human Services Office of Population Affairs on February 22, any organization that provides or refers patients for abortions is ineligible for Title X funding, even to cover contraception, cancer screenings and STD testing.

Shortly after its publication, more than 2o reproductive and medical rights groups filed lawsuits challenging the rule. 

Planned Parenthood Vice President of Community Engagement Julie Mickelberry wrote in an email to Mustang News that the center in San Luis Obispo saw 4,631 patients in 2018, 84 percent of those patients being women. She said that the Trump Administration’s new rule includes language directed specifically at Planned Parenthood.

Emma Withrow | Mustang News

“Without the Title X program, many patients will lose access to free or low-cost basic care like birth control, STI testing and treatment and cancer screenings,” Mickelberry wrote.

According to the San Luis Obispo County Health Department, rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have nearly doubled in the past eight years. Mickelberry wrote that Planned Parenthood’s “The Only Way to Know, is to Know!” campaign has attempted to decrease high STD rates in the county. Last year, the Planned Parenthood San Luis Obispo Health Center provided 9,859 Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) tests, according to Mickelberry.

Cal Poly Planned Parenthood Generation Action President and philosophy senior Gina Welisch said she is upset by “exclusive” rhetoric used by the pro-choice movement.

“I have been heavily disappointed with the dialogue regarding these bans in the past weeks. While these bans obviously affect many cisgender women, they also affect transgender men, non-binary and intersex folks,” Welisch said.

Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) Representative Michelle Call also mentioned the LGBTQIA+ community in her speech.

Carolyne Sysmans | Mustang News Credit: Carolyne Sysmans | Mustang News

Call said that intersex people, bisexual people, and transgender men can all get pregnant and that LGBTQIA+ people are twice as likely to get pregnant as their cisgender peers.

“For those that are already struggling with marginalization, stigma and other issues need access to safe, affordable pregnancy termination when necessary,” Call said. “It is literally a matter of life and death for them.”

Welisch said that she believes these bans are a strategic move by lawmakers to keep people in poverty.

“We know that these bans are a tactic to keep people in poverty, to keep prisons filled and enable voter suppression,” Welisch said. 

Anti-abortion advocates protested at the rally. Danny Ehinger is an active member of the Abolitionist Society of SLO County, an anti-abortion group. Ehinger said he believes that “abortion should be banned from the moment of conception and on, without exception.”

Justine Pelton, Yasi Arami, Emma Withrow and Sophia Carnevale contributed to this story.

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