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OU Students for Reproductive Justice host guest speaker for discussion on legislation restricting abortion access

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State Rep. Colin Walke visited OU College Democrats Thursday to address current reproductive legislation, bipartisanship and more.

The OU Students for Reproductive Justice invited a guest speaker to speak on current reproductive health care legislation, the Oklahoma House of Representatives and bipartisanship during a question and answer session Thursday evening.

Representative Collin Walke (D-Oklahoma City) is a former attorney and co-founder of AWAKEOKC, a non-profit organization dedicated to “meditation and mindfulness-based practices.” He discussed reproductive justice and how it affects Oklahomans, and also gave advice to aspiring lawyers and politicians.

He said talking to students is his favorite part of his job because education was what motivated him to be in politics in the first place. That, along with data privacy, is a topic he is extremely passionate about and why he continues to fight “losing battles” as a member of the House minority.

“I’m a product of public education. I think there are myriads of ways that we can improve this state and improve our education (that) we're not doing,” Walke said. “What keeps me going is, quite honestly, my fundamental belief that my job in life is to help lessen other people's suffering.”

Katherine Wooldridge, SRJ Outreach Chair, said the group invited Walke to provide a different way to engage with the organization’s cause. SRJ Co-Presidents BreAnn Redcross and Haley Lewsey said the organization wants students to have access to factual information in the “heated environment” of reproductive justice and the education that Walke provided was invaluable.

“I think a lot of us at OU, in general, are just really uneducated about what specifically is going on with these laws,” Lewsey said. “The main purpose (of inviting Walke) was to get a perspective from a lawyer and a legislator on what is happening (in our state’s legislature).”

Walke said five Oklahoma anti-abortion bills, including House Bills 2441, 1904 and 1102, and Senate Bills 778 and 779, operate in a “logical and legal gray area.” For students who want to pursue a legal or political career, Walke said it’s crucial to recognize both sides of an argument because, legally speaking, Conservatives have a “decent” reasoning behind them.

Collaboration and civility, Walke said, is the key to unlocking bipartisanship. House Majority Leader and Representative Josh West (R-Grove) is Walke’s “best friend” in the House and, despite having opposing political views, he said he and West built a relationship on areas they agree on, such as data privacy.

However, Walke said bipartisanship is difficult in Oklahoma’s current political climate due to polarization and how religion seems to dictate political opinion, which Walke and his wife discussed in the 2019 film "American Heretics." Although some Republican representatives would rather vote with the Democrats on controversial topics, he said some fear they will lose their seat to more extreme politicians and, therefore, vote against their conscience and morals.

“I can’t tell you how many times some of the people that I know up there have come up to me and gone, ‘Collin, you’re lucky. You get to go home and sleep with a clean conscience tonight.’ I don’t,” Walke said.

When asked how, as a legislator, he discusses controversial issues in hopes of providing a different perspective, Walke said he approaches them from a logical standpoint that is “intuitively problematic.”

“My favorite abortion argument is this: You got 1000 fertilized embryos and you’ve got a one living child and the building is burning down. Who do you save?” Walke said. “Everybody's going for the kid, right? There is something to (these logical questions) where we can discriminate between those concepts (of pro-life and pro-choice).”

For young activists, Walke said he recommends developing a relationship with a district representative and getting involved with local politics in such a way where others will have to listen. In line with active involvement, when asked about his response to the ACLU lawsuit against House Bill 1775, he said he hopes HB 1775 gets struck down.

“At the university level, I think it's absurd in any way, shape, or form to say what should or shouldn't be taught in the classroom,” Walke said. “This ought to be the place where you can say the unsayable. There are certain things that just should not be said, that we know at this stage in our evolution are inappropriate, but, otherwise, everything should be up in arms.”

Kaly Phan is a journalism sophomore and news reporter at The Daily.

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