On March 1, 30 students from both Carleton College and St. Olaf College spent the day at the Minnesota State Capitol to lobby their state senators and representatives about Pro-Choice-friendly bills. The trip was sponsored by St. Olaf’s Students for Reproductive Rights.
“[Legislators] really want to meet with their constituents because the constituents who put in the work to come lobby are the ones who are doing the most activism in their district which impacts whether or not they get elected,” said Sydney Spreck
“There are so many bills that unless someone comes and tells their story and puts name to face for the bill, they may not even hear about it until it comes before them, and then they vote on it, maybe not knowing everything about it.” – Sydney Spreck ‘ 18
’18, co-chair of Students for Reproductive Rights. “There are so many bills that unless someone comes and tells their story and puts name to face for the bill, they may not even hear about it until it comes before them, and then they vote on it, maybe not knowing everything about it.”
Upon arriving at the Capitol, students were trained on how to effectively lobby. While some of the steps to effective lobbying were straightforward, such as being polite, others were more specific, like how to relate the bill to your life and ask the legislator to take a position. Lobbying effectively keeps arguments simple and straightforward, so the argument remains strong. Listening to what the other person is saying and trying to find common ground where both parties agree is key. Additionally, successful lobbying uses personal stories instead of statistics.
Before you lobby for something, you need to know what you are lobbying for. The sponsors for Pro-Choice Lobby Day provided five bills for lobbyists to talk about with their legislators. The first and largest issue is the Protect Access to Contraception (PAC) Act. The PAC Act will ensure vital contraceptive protection to Minnesotans. This act will prevent employers and politicians from determining or limiting coverage of birth control. Nine in ten women will use a form of birth control throughout their lives, thus this bill could affect over 1 million women in Minnesota alone.
Lobbyists were also encouraged to dissuade legislators from voting for abortion bans, bans on fetal tissue research, onerous record-keeping requirements and “Choose Life” license plates. Abortion bans would criminalize anyone who performed an abortion and only allow abortions if the woman was in mortal danger. They also limit common forms of contraception. Bans on fetal tissue research would prohibit research which holds promises of treating medical conditions including, but not limited to, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, leukemia, Huntington’s, stroke, degenerative eye conditions and radiation poisoning. Onerous record-keeping requirements would force abortion providers to keep detailed patient files for 30 years, contrary to the seven years that other medical providers are required to keep their documentation. “Choose Life” license plates are an attempt to lure women away from abortion providers and increase funds for anti-abortion clinics.
While the students who attended the Pro-Choice Lobby Day could lobby to their own legislators, the majority of students lobbied for the Northfield area, District 20B. This includes Senator Rich Draheim (R) and Representative David Bly (DFL).
This first scheduled interview for St. Olaf and Carleton students was supposed to be with Senator Draheim, but he never attended the meeting.
In regards to Senator Draheim’s actions, Spreck said that his actions were “childish.”
The students were not ready to give up on Senator Draheim, and his elusive behavior only encouraged the students to get a meeting with him.
After the students sat through his committee meeting, Senator Draheim spoke with the students.
Although he disagreed on the issue of abortion, he did agree that contraception is important for society and reduces the need for abortions. While the students did not necessarily change Senator Draheim’s mind, many students considered the meeting a success nonetheless.
Talking with Representative David Bly was much easier. As he is pro-choice, he agreed with the student lobbyists and said he would vote for pro-choice bills. Representative Bly also encouraged students to vote in the upcoming elections to ensure that their wants are being represented.
A few students did lobby to their own representatives with varying results. Annika Werner ’21 discussed her views with Representative Bud Nornes (R).
“[It went] okay, although he tried to change the subject repeatedly … Representative Nornes seemed open to the concerns.” Senator Ingebrigtsen (R) was also unavailable to meet with students.