When 16-year-old Brennan Eberwine read a leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s decision last week to overturn Rowe v. Wade, which could stop legal abortions, a junior high school in Louisville, Kentucky did something that was part of his life from eighth grade.
“I have a deep hole in my stomach for that,” Eberwine, one of hundreds of Louisville students who dropped out of high school in three areas last Thursday, told me. “What it opens up is horrible,” he said of the draft verdict. “It makes you lose weight, but if you let that weight crush you, it’s over.”
A junior at Eberwine Dupont Manuel High School, a magnet public school that could be the alma mater of Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who said a national ban on abortion could be “possible” if Rock was repealed. In Kentucky, the decision would trigger a trigger law and immediately stop abortion, a fact that Eberwine or manual student Brianna Woods did not lose on her partner in the protest.
“When I heard I was So Stressed, ”said Woods, 17, who carried a sign saying“ our body, our mind, our rights ”in last week’s walkout. “A haunting feeling overwhelmed me. I no longer felt safe in my kingdom.”
Both Manual students have a history of confronting authorities: they appeared before the Kentucky state legislature in February to testify against a bill of history directing that said students would whitewash the past, deny freedom of speech and eliminate marginalized people. They are among Red State youth across the United States who are speaking out against the bill, restricting what they can read and discuss in class on issues such as constitutional racism and gender identity.
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Now, they have found themselves against a potentially historic Supreme Court ruling that could end access to abortion in many states. As they age with deep and bitter ideological divisions, their lives have already been shaped by epidemic isolation and clashes with masked mandates. Many are also involved in the Black Lives Matter-led ethnic justice movement since the assassination of George Floyd by police in 2020..
“It’s hard enough to be a teenager, but in the current political climate it’s a nightmare,” Angela Cooper, communications director at ACLU in Kentucky, told me. The ACLU sent a letter to Kentucky school officials last week reminding them that students could participate in demonstrations or walkouts in the national conversation on abortion access “without the risk of disciplinary action or local law enforcement intervention.”
Nationally, students are fighting book bans with the “Forbidden-Book Club” and challenging adults who are trying to teach young people with their bodies what they can read, learn and do.
“All of these situations give me more motivation to change and do what I can to protect the future of those who will come after me.”
Brianna Woods, student, Dupont Manuel High School, Kentucky
Of course, opponents of the new law and sanctions are not the only ones talking. Several Kentucky students I spoke to told me they had friends who were apolitical or who were in favor of banning abortion. Some belong to No Left Turn Kentucky, the local chapter on conservative no left turn in education. The group called for “radical instincts and injections of political agendas into K-12 education” to rally against what it called “the inevitable.”
Student members of that group testified during a hearing of the same Kentucky Senate Education Committee in February that Woods and Eberwine were present, arguing for limitations. In April, Andy Bassier, the Democratic governor of Kentucky, vetoed the bill and called it a step back, although a majority vote in both houses could override it.
Manuel also refused to attend last week’s walkout on three Louisville High School rows, including McConnell’s Alma Mater, where the senator began his political career as president of the student council. Eberwine says McConnell was scolded during a recent tour. “I would say most of the Manuel community is dissatisfied with him being permanently attached to our school’s reputation,” he said.
McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Senator Louisville University, the alma mater of his college, rejected the idea that the year the slaves came to America – 1619 – was one of the most important points in American history.
In Kentucky, I spoke with other students who described Roe’s activism long before the leak: Minhal Nazir, 16, said he wanted to protest and join a civic organization after taking government and politics classes.
“The more I learned, the more exposed I became, the more I realized how much work needed to be done for change,” said Sophomore Nazir of Kentucky Country Day School, a private school in Louisville. Nazir said he disliked watching students stay away from conversations where politicians were pointing out everything from school masks to what books were in the library. “And now, this is our body,” Nazir told me. “It demonstrates how much we trust adults who know very little about our lives.”
A December survey of more than 10,000 Kentucky students by the Kentucky Student Voice team found that many want more discussion of race, no less. Nearly half think their schools need to do more to tackle racism, while 31 percent of color students say they don’t have a chance to talk about their own experiences with race in their classroom. The student-led group came up with a number of recommendations for improving school climate, including establishing response systems for reporting racially motivated issues to students and training teachers to be culturally proficient.
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In Georgia, Alex Ames, a Georgia Tech student who was a high school employee, says fighting back is the only way he can get ahead. For him, the Roe vs. Wade leak has followed a tough few weeks: Georgia lawmakers have passed a bill that he’s fighting to exclude trans athletes from competing on sports teams. It is now signed by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.
“We can show up and talk and we can march and hold press conferences, but they can pass voter suppression laws and block public hearings or cancel them so we can’t talk,” said Ames, a Georgia Youth He led the Justice Coalition “Democracy feels untouchable to ordinary Georgians and Americans.”
Yet the option of moving to a more liberal state is the last thing on his mind. “It’s frustrating, but I think it would be a mistake to leave,” Ames said. “I do it because we love our friends and our families. Leaving behind those you are fighting for in the first place does not seem to be an option. “
Eberwine agrees that leaving is tantamount to giving up. “It’s difficult in a red state where your opinion doesn’t seem to be taken seriously,” he said. “But advocating for myself is the best thing I can do in this state. I have lived in Kentucky all my life and I care deeply about the state and the people who live here. The legislature does not represent me or many Cantukians as it hurts the most. “
And as much as he’s upset about Rowe and all the other issues in Kentucky, Brianna Woods says he’s just started fighting. “All of these situations give me more motivation to change and I do my best to protect the future of those who will come after me,” Woods said. “Maybe in a few decades, we won’t remember Mitch McConnell graduating from the manual, but we will remember the students who went on to make a positive change.”
This story about Roe is produced by Hatchinger report, A non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for us Weekly newsletter.