Jefferson Society hosts reproductive rights advocate

Speaker Sarah Slamen encourages student debate, increased government involvement


The Jefferson Literary and Debating Society hosted Sarah Slamen, a reproductive rights advocate and political consultant, Friday evening as the first speaker of its Spring 2015 Distinguished Speaker Series.

Third-year College student Liz Master, vice president of the Jefferson Society, said Slamen is known for her fight against Texas’ 2013 Omnibus Anti-Abortion Bill.

“Ms. Slamen was sought out primarily because of the media attention she received after her 2013 testimony to the Texas State Senate went viral and essentially catalyzed a statewide reproductive justice movement,” Master said in an email. “She is an impressive public speaker and an articulate advocate for women's reproductive rights.”

Slamen’s speech, “Reproductive Justice and the Fight for a More Civil Society,” was co-sponsored by the University Democrats.

Slamen urged students to seek out opportunities for debate, even outside the binary political system, as such opportunities are beneficial for practicing relaxed conversation about pressing issues.

“Whatever you believe today as a second or third year, you have no idea what it will be five years from now — so keep yourself open, and think outside of this binary that a lot of us are groomed in,” Slamen said.

Slamen showed clips of her 2013 testimony towards the beginning of her talk to demonstrate effective debating. The first objective of Slamen’s speech was to express the importance of public speaking, Master said.

“She underlined...the importance and power of effectively delivering poignant rhetoric,” Master said. “The latter part of the program was largely aimed at redefining the vocabulary used in the dialogue around reproductive justice and explaining the current issues facing the reproductive justice movement.”

Master said that while students learn from professors in the classroom and from peers in social and extracurricular settings, it is important to have speakers like Slamen offer real world perspective and experience.

“As University students, many of us have specialized to the point that we might not have access to unrelated fields,” Master said. “It's important to bring speakers into our community to provide an approachable introduction to new disciplines. Our speakers offer a window into a new area of expertise and experience in a nonacademic but distinctly intellectual forum.”

As per her own experience, Slamen encouraged students to never give up their fight, no matter the obstacles.

“[Reproductive rights legislative lobbyists] weren’t technically successful in 2013, but we raised their hackles enough that they had to spend a lot of money to campaign and organize against us — they were literally trying to keep us outside of the Capital,” she said.

Slamen ended her speech by listing ways that people can get involved and take action within the government — from working for non-profit organizations to practicing legislative lobbying to fundraising to improve the criminal justice system.

“There is plenty of work to be done, but most people don’t know their representatives’ names [or] their senator’s names — they don’t know these things,” Slamen said. “You fill up that office two times a week with 40 people, and they get the message.”

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