On Oct. 8, downtown Poughkeepsie held a “Bans Off Our Bodies!” march in protest for reproductive rights. The crisp morning air fed into the palpable feeling of excitement and solidarity among local residents. However, there was also an edge of anxiety. Everyone was aware that this march meant more than it ever had in the past.
Residents gathered at the Civic Center and marched to the bank of the Hudson River, where organizers and political figures spoke about the fight for reproductive rights and upcoming elections. Protestors wore shirts advocating their support for abortion rights, held signs backing Planned Parenthood and shouted catchy pro-choice slogans. Onlookers voiced their support by honking their car horns and shouting out their windows along with the march. Arriving at the end of its journey, the crowd gathered in front of a stage where speakers lined up ready to voice their support. Among those who spoke was Pat Ryan, current representative of New York’s 19th Congressional District and candidate in the upcoming election. Ryan won a special election in August of this year following Democratic representative Antonia Delgado’s resignation and is running to maintain his spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ryan’s campaign focuses on one key issue: reproductive rights. His pro-choice stance pushed him to win this August, and it continues to be central in his fight to win re-election. The election on Nov. 8 will be Ryan’s chance to maintain his seat in Congress and further defend the right to choose in New York.
I was able to speak to Ryan and ask him about his plans for continuing the fight for abortion rights and the importance of events like this march. “At a moment where reproductive rights [and] abortion rights are under direct attack, we have to stand up, we have to make sure we keep this front and center,” said Ryan. “I think rallies and raising public awareness are really important.”
Sophie Mode ’25, also present at the march, has gotten involved with Ryan’s campaign. “The most important thing you can do is make sure people know about Pat Ryan,” urged Mode. “It’s a really important election and people just don’t really know who he is, so the biggest thing you can do is talk to people who live in Poughkeepsie about his pro-choice stance.” As for getting involved in the final days of the campaign, she suggested canvassing opportunities presented on Nov. 5, 6, 7, and 8. There will be virtual phone banking options as well as in person events going door-to-door to raise awareness.
“I think there’s a lot of ways to plug into a campaign…whether it’s knocking on doors, making phone calls, [sending] texts, certainly [actions] on campus…” shared Ryan. He continued, “We would love to connect with students in any way that are willing to be a part of our campaign.”
Even after this election, there are many ways to get involved with abortion issues on campus. Hannah Oppenheim ’23 and Felicity Rakochy ’23 are the co-presidents of Vassar Voices for Planned Parenthood (VVPP), a campus organization centered around reproductive rights and health. They spoke to me about some specific ways VVPP allows students to get involved. “We do clinic escorting every week at the Poughkeepsie Planned Parenthood,” said Rakochy. “[This is] a really easy and effective way to get involved with reproductive justice on campus.” Clinic escorting entails walking patients from their car into the Planned Parenthood building and offering them support amid the anti-abortion protestors constantly camped outside.
Additionally, VVPP is holding a “Sex on Sundaes” event this Sunday, Nov. 6. “Our event that’s coming up will give students the opportunity to see what birth control options and health care options there are available on campus and hear from an actual [healthcare] provider,” said Oppenheim. Along with build-your-own ice-cream sundaes, the Vassar gynecologist will be at the event ready to answer any questions students have about reproductive health and resources.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, Planned Parenthoods’ very existence is at stake. “We try to incorporate political ideas into [conversations about] reproductive health, which is important especially now,” Oppenheim said. Being politically aware is key to actively participating in the constant fight for reproductive justice.
Tuesday, Nov. 8 is Vassar students’ most important opportunity for involvement in maintaining abortion rights. Whether that be voting in the local elections here in Poughkeepsie or mailing in your absentee ballot to your home state, the upcoming elections are vital in preserving our reproductive rights—your vote matters. “Our district is one of the top ten battlegrounds in our country,” Pat Ryan told me. “We’re counting on students to be engaged and coming out to vote.”