Community activists for reform in abstinence education and abortion rights spoke on their personal work experiences and the importance of continued activism to about 20 students at a panel Tuesday night.

The panel, called “Sex, Censorship and Civil Liberties,” was presented by the Yale College chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Reproductive Rights Action League of Yale College. While the ACLU focused on protesting the Patriot Act for most of the first semester, it used Tuesday night’s panel to begin a semester-long dedication to dialogue on reproductive rights.

Lori Spoozak MED ’07, the first of the panel’s four speakers, said she thinks the movement for reproductive rights should not be viewed as an isolated event, but as another important part of the history of the civil rights movement. Citing poverty and census statistics, Spoozak suggested that the issue of reproductive rights could bring various activist groups together.

“We can use our history to build a more powerful movement for the future,” Spoozak said. “Cooperation with groups such as the NAACP and NOW will bring us a step closer to empowering women.”

Lana Alkayava ’07 said she believes the issues discussed by panel members are important to the preservation of constitutional freedom.

“The legislation and policy that’s at stake doesn’t concern just women. It concerns everyone,” Alkayava said. “The only way any group will make itself heard is through a joint effort with others.”

Teresa Younger, executive director of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, described President George W. Bush’s ’68 plans for abstinence-only education as “troubling.” Younger said she believes not educating high school students about the alternatives to abstinence would put young Americans in danger.

“While it’s difficult for [Bush] to talk about, some young people are actually having sex,” Younger said. “If we put young people at risk of abusing themselves, we disempower them,” she said.

Panel member Liz Conley ’04 said her days as a Women’s and Gender Studies major at Yale inspired her to advocate reproductive rights to the greater public sphere. Conley is now part of the ACLU’s Freedom Project, an initiative to give women across America emergency access to contraception and abortion. She said judges and other officials in local communities “discriminate” against women from poor socioeconomic backgrounds.

“These rights are threatened on every legislative level every day,” Conley said.

While Susan Yolen — a representative from Connecticut Planned Parenthood and Connecticut Coalition for Choice — informed audience members of the status of numerous “gag orders” concerning abortion federally, she stressed the importance of activism at the local level.

“In the case of comprehensive sex education, it fails because people are able to intimidate the school boards,” Yolen said. “Our efforts need to be at the grassroots.”

Boris Volodarsky ’05, a former chair of the Yale College Chapter of the ACLU, said he thinks the issues panel members discussed are part of a greater struggle for racial equality. He said he believes Americans will respond accordingly when they feel that their rights are threatened.

“I was very impressed by the knowledge of all four speakers,” Volodarsky said. “I’m especially encouraged by Spoozak’s reference to building coalitions around racial equality,” he said.