Russian language sophomore Olivia Bicknell was 38 weeks pregnant and walking into class at the OU College of Law when she was overwhelmed by a contraction.
She had been suffering from severe contractions, about an hour apart, before the break in her eight-hour class, but this particular contraction rendered her unable to walk.
“I got into this squatting position because it was the only thing that relieved the pressure, and I just stayed there,” Bicknell said. “I don’t know how long. My professor came in after me ... and walked me to the classroom.”
Once in the classroom, Bicknell was feeling better when the contractions returned, now occurring about every 30 minutes. At the beginning of the class period, Bicknell’s professor had jokingly asked the class if anyone knew how to deliver a baby, which served to foreshadow the rest of the day.
“I actually went into labor in the middle of class,” Bicknell said.
Bicknell said, at the time she got pregnant, she was enrolled in the paralegal program at the OU College of Law and was also working as a paralegal at Crowe & Dunlevy in Oklahoma City. She said she chose to give birth because she was in the financial position to be able to support a child. Besides this, she didn’t know when she’d be able to have a child again.
“I have some health issues that make it difficult to not only get pregnant, but to have a full-term pregnancy,” she said. “And I made the decision to have a child because I could, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to later.”
This ability to choose to have a child is the reason political science junior Tasha Dawson and math and economics junior Anna Hayes felt the need to create Students for Reproductive Justice at OU — a group fighting to protect reproductive rights.
Dawson, founder of Students for Reproductive Justice at OU, said after volunteering with Planned Parenthood for about a year, the group reached out to her about starting a Planned Parenthood Generation Action club on OU’s campus, and the group was created in August 2019.
According to the Planned Parenthood Generation Action website, these clubs form “a network of young organizers and activists across the country who organize events on their campuses and in their communities to mobilize advocates for reproductive freedom.” As an affiliate of Planned Parenthood, the club also receives resources and support from the group’s Oklahoma City office.
Planned Parenthood Generation Action groups are committed to “raising public awareness about reproductive health and rights, (and) educating young people about sexual health,” according to the website.
Bicknell said, as a mother, she sees the existence of an on-campus group advocating for reproductive rights as necessary.
“As someone who has a toddler and is finishing my undergrad, it is not easy. I work, I’m a single mom, now I work two jobs, I go to school full-time and take care of my kid. And that is not ideal,” Bicknell said. “Women definitely need to have resources to decide whether or not that’s a path they want to take.”
Hayes, vice president of Students for Reproductive Justice at OU, said her group is the first on campus to focus solely on reproductive justice.
“Part of creating the club was finding like-minded individuals who really value activism and will make sure they’re educated enough to be competent and successful activists,” Hayes said.
Since the club is so new, it has not yet partnered with any other organizations but would like to in the future, Hayes said.
“We’re still building our coalition, we’re building people to work with and trying to find alliances in our community,” Hayes said. “There’s a lot of clubs that maybe have similar interests but aren’t completely aligned in mission, so there’s certainly opportunities to engage with other clubs.”
The broad mission of the group is to promote reproductive justice, which Hayes would define as promoting bodily autonomy and the ability to decide if, when and how to have children. The core values of the group include inclusivity and intersectionality, as well as providing access to education and care.
“We want to make sure we’re being aware of everyone’s needs and protecting their rights and their access to education to access healthcare,” Hayes said.
Hayes said the recent proposal of abortion bans by multiple states probably motivated a higher turnout to the first meeting than expected, with over 40 people in attendance.
Dawson said Students for Reproductive Justice at OU has been welcomed on campus so far, and she has not been aware of much pushback from other groups. She invites critics to learn more about the organization and said she’s happy to educate everyone on reproductive rights.
Bicknell said it’s almost impossible to predict all the effects of motherhood — the added financial burden, as well as mental and emotional changes during and after pregnancy, to name a few.
“Being able to have all the information in front of you and make a decision is the most important thing,” Bicknell said.
Hayes said she hopes Students for Reproductive Justice at OU becomes a place people can go to get that information, as well as to receive support and be activists.
“There’s a lot of room, and we don’t want (the group) to be set in one specific thing because you have to do what you’re passionate about, and you’re going to do that the best,” Hayes said.