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Texas law student talks about her current and future fight for abortion rights


Many young people are reckoning with a post-Roe reality. For student activists across the country, that means questions about what comes next. Nikita Mhatre is a student at the University of Texas School of Law. She's also co-president of a student chapter of If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice. Welcome to the show.

NIKITA MHATRE: Great to be here.

NADWORNY: So what kinds of conversations are you having with your friends and fellow activists?

MHATRE: I think we're just in a place of strategizing and thinking about where we move forward from the decision that just came down because, especially in the legal aspect of this, no one really knows what the legal status is right now in terms of the landscape across the country and especially in Texas, where we know a lot of really terrible laws are about to go into effect - so I think also just strategizing in terms of what we can do to maintain access for folks on the ground that still need it, and also finding community among people that have been in this fight for a really long time and making sure that we're all just taking care of ourselves.

NADWORNY: And you had to start dealing with this issue back in September, when Texas banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. How does the new ruling from Friday add to your mobilization?

MHATRE: Yeah, I think it just makes everything more pressing because as you mentioned, with the passing of SB 8 last fall, abortion access has not been accessible in Texas for most people for a very long time, even maybe before SB 8 was put into effect because of all of the different laws that Texas already had regulating and banning abortion under certain circumstances. So I think now that it is more of a national issue - whereas before you could just say, oh, it's an issue in Texas, but maybe it's not an issue somewhere else - I think we just see a lot more mobilization and a lot more people really outraged. And I think now people are really realizing that it's not a problem that's going to go away overnight. And so I think as of now, we're seeing a lot more people wanting to get engaged.

NADWORNY: Yeah. I'm curious, when you're on campus interacting with all different kinds of people, have you had an opportunity to speak with your counterparts on the other end of this debate, meaning anti-abortion activists?

MHATRE: Yeah, I can't say that we've really had those conversations - at least I haven't been in them personally. I can't speak for my fellow board members. But I think there's also a little stigma-breaking that needs to happen, where people that try to position themselves as being pro-life are still a lot of times the people that do not believe in universal health care or universal child care or living wages and keeping our schools safe from guns. So I think I don't know how much overlap there can be in terms of finding common ground just because abortion is one aspect of reproductive justice, but we still need healthy and safe communities. We still need parents to be able to parent their children in the way that they want to and have access to all of the supportive policies that are necessary. So I personally don't know how productive those conversations would be.

NADWORNY: This is an issue that you've clearly dedicated much of your life and now your education to. Where do you look for hope and strength to move forward with your work?

MHATRE: Yeah, I think just seeing the mass mobilization that we've seen over the last few days has been heartwarming in a sense, to see that people actually do care about this issue and realize that their rights are at stake and want to get involved and are mobilizing and protesting and out in the streets about this. I also find a lot of inspiration from the people that I work with all the time and all of the incredibly brilliant young people that are out there and making their voices heard and telling their politicians and legislators and other people in decision-making power that we're not OK with the status quo right now and we're actively trying to make a change.

NADWORNY: That's Nikita Mhatre, a student at the University of Texas School of Law and co-president of If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice on her campus. Thanks so much for being with us.

MHATRE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.

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