Lighting Our Own Torches

Heather Busby

We young women have had plenty to fight for all our lives, and we've never thought abortion access was a guarantee.

When I read Micheal Winerip’s New York Times article Where to Pass the Torch? I realized that
this article was directed at me.  I was born in 1973 and I have
always known life in the U.S.
post-Roe.  And for most of
my adult life, I have been hearing my mother’s generation complain that my
generation and those after me take abortion access for granted, that we don’t
appreciate it because we didn’t have to fight to see it legalized.

We’ve had plenty to fight for all our lives, and we’ve never thought abortion access was a guarantee.

It has NOT been all roses and rainbows since 1973.  The struggle for
female bodily autonomy has continued, if not heightened over my lifetime. 
My earliest memory of anything remotely abortion-related was when I was 11
years old, on my way to the natural history museum in Houston and we had to
drive through a giant anti-abortion rally in Hermann Park. 
I remember passing the angry adult faces and the small children with them,
carrying signs with ugly messages of hate.  I didn’t quite understand what
they were protesting, but I knew that I didn’t want to be a part of whatever it
was. 

I have never taken abortion rights for granted because throughout my lifetime,
they have always been at risk.  The threat has been visible; it is
felt.  And I don’t doubt that the women who have come of age after me feel
the same.

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I’ve been hearing for years about how the anti-choice movement has done such a
great job of engaging youth.  I refuse to believe that is because their
message is so much more appealing, but perhaps it is their approach. 
After college, I worked for a pro-choice organization and I could not have been
happier about it.  But soon it became apparent that my young co-workers
and I were not going to be treated like adults capable of taking over the reins
of an agency one day.  We were coffee fetchers.  I left that job
after barely a year because I had too much love for myself to stay in a place
where I wasn’t treated with respect, especially when that job had me working
more than 60 hours per week for $18,000 a year with zero benefits.  It
broke my heart to leave what I thought was my dream job:  getting paid to
fight for women’s reproductive rights.

Does the post-Roe generation care?  Yes.  They absolutely care.  I see it all the
time.  They’re working in the clinics and in nonprofits for little pay and
they’re stepping up to volunteer, to speak out.  They’re in the streets,
on campuses, in their communities and they aren’t invisible. They are starting
abortion assistance funds and raising money to help women who can’t afford an
abortion, usually devoting countless volunteer hours to the cause.  I hear
about how medical schools are not teaching abortion, but then I see groups of
young med students organizing Medical Students for Choice chapters in their
conservative schools and demanding clinicals in abortion procedure.  I see
law students starting Law Students for Reproductive Justice chapters and
getting their administrations to offer reproductive justice courses. 
Young people are out there fighting for our reproductive rights everyday, but
they have to be treated with respect, as adults and as leaders.  They will
carry the those torches, especially if we make it viable for them.

Even for those young people that would like to work in this movement, it is not
always possible.  It is important to remember that higher education is
becoming more and more expensive and students are leaving with greater student
loan debt than even before.  In the years since I graduated, private loans
have become more pervasive, and university financial aid offices seem to be
pushing them at every turn.  With the higher interest rates and resultant
staggering student loan payments, this leaves quite a burden on young,
college-educated people who would like to devote their lives to social justice
work.  They want to make the sacrifice, but when you get out of college with
tens of thousands in student loan debt, it’s not always possible to work for
the poverty wages that many abortion-related jobs pay. 

And this applies to even those with professional certifications, like
nurses.  A friend of mine recently struggled with a negotiation to get a
local clinic to pay her the going rate for a nurse at an abortion clinic, which
was still below what she could make somewhere else.  And non-professionals
are paid even less.  Of course clinics and nonprofits are limited by many
factors, but sometimes I truly believe they could pay living wages if they made
the effort.  I was once told by a clinic employee that she thought the
director was more interested in finding people to work as cheaply as possible
than in finding qualified employees.  And a director of a pro-choice
agency confided in me that she wanted to hire a college grad because "I
can get him cheap."

I agree with the article that becoming an abortion provider carries additional
burdens, such as the threats on your life and the loss of privacy.  Those
are factors that we can’t always control, but we can control the other aspects
of the environment to a certain extent.  We can make these jobs viable
options for young people, by valuing them and their work in various ways, including
compensation and benefits.  And I’ve found that the more respect someone
is given, the more they are willing to sacrifice some creature comforts to do
the work.

Regardless of the low wages and few tangible rewards, the post-Roe generation is still stepping up to the
plate and doing all they can to protect reproductive freedom and make it
accessible to all.  So, to the Sally
Burgesses of the world I say keep your torches.  We’ve already lit our
own.

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