Nearly 20 Hellgate High School students left class Thursday morning to gather in front of the Missoula County Courthouse in protest of stringent abortion laws passed or proposed in several states.

The rally of students came two days after Montana organizations staged their own protest at the courthouse. Tuesday's protests across the country aimed to defend of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court case that established a woman's legal right to abortion.

“None of us are of age to vote, so this is the only way to make our voices heard,” said 17-year-old Keyvonna Dahl, a senior at Hellgate High School.

Dahl cited legislation passed in Georgia, Alabama and Ohio that banned abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, as the reason for the protest. The walkout started at 10:30 a.m., and began as an event organized on Facebook a week prior, with students making their way on foot up Higgins Avenue to the courthouse.

Dahl, dressed in clothes that resembled those of suffragettes, said she doesn’t want Montana to become the next Alabama. At 11 a.m., with the tolling of the courthouse bell, she led the group in a moment of silence for all of the women who died from botched abortions before Roe v. Wade, and all those who will die in light of the recent laws.

Several students from Washington Middle School also joined the rally.

Eight states, starting with Alabama earlier this month, have signed bills into law that restrict access to abortions and could pose a challenge to Roe. The most recent state, Missouri, passed a bill May 17 that bans the procedure after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

In Montana, during the 2019 Legislature a bill that would have asked voters to decide whether life begins at conception stalled after its proposal by GOP lawmakers. In April, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in favor of nurses being able to provide early-term abortions.

“It just doesn’t make any sense that those who don’t have the experience, or the body, to even understand abortion should be making these decisions for us,” said Hellgate sophomore class President Madisen Stiffarm.

“It’s a beautiful day today, but even if it were pouring rain, I’d still be here. It’s just a shame that we have to miss school just to express ourselves,” she said.

“We don’t have any policy in place prohibiting the right of students’ freedom of political expression. What we do have is an attendance policy,” said Hatton Littman, director of communications for Missoula County Public Schools.

“If any students end up missing class, teachers will mark them absent and their parents will be notified,” she said.

According to Littman, students can engage in any kind of protest, so long as it doesn’t threaten the safety or education of other students. The students attending the rally said they didn’t face any restrictions from their teachers or administrators.

By noon, all of the students had left the courthouse and returned to their classes. 

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