When Jocelyn Wright heard that a near-total abortion ban had become law in her home state, she was sitting in her bedroom in Daphne, Alabama, scrolling through Twitter.
Wright, a 16-year-old high school junior, was looking at her phone that night in the hope that it might help her fall asleep, the sort of counterproductive nighttime ritual that is familiar to most members of the millennial and Gen Z generations. But when she saw that Alabama was trending, she got wide awake.
She texted a high school friend. “I said, ‘I want to do something, but I’m not sure what to do,’” Wright told HuffPost. Then her friend sent her a link to Change.org. So Wright started a petition.
“As a young woman nearing adulthood, I will not tolerate this violation upon women’s rights as citizens of this country. I call on all of my fellow youth to take a stand against AHLPA,” she wrote, referring to the Alabama Human Life Protection Act. “We may be too young to vote now, but before you know it, we WILL be heading to the polls (and perhaps running for office ourselves). We want Alabama to know that we will not stand for this blatant abuse of power that targets women and their ability to choose what happens to their OWN, INDEPENDENT bodies.”
What started as an exercise in frustration began to take off. As of May 23, Wright’s petition had more than 43,000 signatures. HuffPost spoke to the budding teen activist about reproductive freedom and the role that young people in her state are playing in this fight.
When did you first hear about the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, which bans most abortions without exceptions for rape and incest?
I first became aware after the Georgia “fetal heartbeat” bill was passed. I saw on Twitter how a bunch of actors and actresses were refusing to film there because of it. So I started following it more closely, so when I found out about Alabama was [poised to] pass basically a total ban on abortion, I got really upset.
Do you remember where you were when you found out the legislation had passed?
I was in my room and I was going through Twitter, because I was trying to go to sleep and I usually just get on my phone at night. And I was just looking through and I found all these comments ― people were like, “Boycott Alabama!” And I was like, “Oh no, what did we do this time?”
I had known about the legislation, but I really didn’t think [Gov. Kay] Ivey was going to sign it into law. I didn’t think it was going to be passed. And I was really shocked when I found out.
Tell me about the petition you started.
So one of my friends, we were texting each other. I had texted her a screenshot of the tweet I saw that [said the legislation] had passed [and been signed into law], and we were both really upset about it. And I said, “I want to do something, but I’m not sure what to do.” School was almost out [for the summer], so we couldn’t do a walk-out or a demonstration at school, and I didn’t really know how to bring a bunch of young people together. So my friend sent me a link to Change.org and I started [the petition]. And now, days later, it has over 40,000 signatures. Crazy.
Had you ever participated in activism before?
I had never directly participated before, but I was a very big supporter of March for Our Lives. I could not attend any of the events, but I do follow stuff like this closely.
Is abortion access something that you had talked to your peers about before? And is it something that you’re talking about now?
I hadn’t really talked about it with my peers a lot before, but we are definitely talking about it a lot now. A lot of my friends are pro-choice, but I have run into people who are pro-life, but they are very respectful about it. I’ve had a lot of really nice discussions with people of both genders. And both genders are very pro-choice and pro-women-having-control.
I think there was only one really negative experience. I was sitting in my European history class and [my classmates] were all talking about the petition, and this one guy goes, “Who’s gonna win, Kay Ivey or some dumb thot with a petition?” And that kinda stung, but I didn’t let it get to me that much, because I feel like this [issue] is more important than some guy.
Does this kind of anti-abortion legislation feel personal to you?
I think that for our peers, since we can’t vote, it makes me really upset that [the Alabama legislature] is trying to control what I can do with my reproductive system without me having a say in it. As we get older, I don’t want to live knowing that I don’t have control over my own body. That’s a choice I should be able to make for myself. We are such a developed nation. It does not make sense for us to not be able to grant women access to safe abortions in this day and age.
It is our constitutional right. And I think it’s just appalling that Gov. Ivey and our state legislature are actively trying to get that taken away.
As a 16-year-old girl living in Alabama, what do you wish lawmakers understood about you and your peers?
I wish they understood that we do matter. And soon we’re going to be voting. And we’re going to be representing our state. So I wish they would listen to us more because right now what they’re doing is not what we want, and sooner or later, they’re not going to be able to make those decisions because we’re going to vote them out.
Do you think you’ll be involved in any other activism around reproductive rights outside of the petition?
Today I’m actually going to head to an abortion protest planning meeting so that we can organize a demonstration in Montgomery [the state capital].
Oh wow! So what do you hope the outcome of your efforts and the efforts of other young people in Alabama will be?
I really hope that Gov. Ivey acknowledges this petition and sees how many young people are against what she is doing and what the Alabama government is doing. And I really hope that the bill gets repealed or is defeated in the lower courts before it even gets to the Supreme Court. It’s scary to think that the Supreme Court could revisit and override its previous ruling on Roe v. Wade. That thought is actually terrifying.
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