Since Bart Stupak tried to ban federal funding of abortion in a House bill earlier this month, there’s been an abundance of opining articles on the public perception of abortion. And according to two articles published recently, the real split isn’t between red states or blue states, but generational approaches to the issue of abortion.
In yesterday’s New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote about 80-year-old Representative Louise M. Slaughter—a Democrat from New York, staunch defender of abortion rights, and member of what NARAL’s Nancy Keenan calls “the menopausal militia”—who secretly helped her unmarried friend receive the procedure in the early 1950’s. According to her, the pain and secrecy of the experience was “seared into my mind,” no doubt helping to inform her pro-choice policy decisions since entering congress in 1986.
But in the 37 years since Roe v. Wade was decided—including the time in which my generation, the Millennials, has grown up—there has been fewer opportunities for pregnant women and their friends to have these kinds of scarring experiences. Instead, we’ve grown up during a time when abortion, while often expensive or difficult to come by, is at least a legal option. “The result is a generational divide,” writes Stolberg, “not because younger women are any less supportive of abortion rights than their elders, but because their frame of reference is different.” Ana Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who studies public attitude towards abortion, backs up this theory.
Here is a generation that has never known a time when abortion has been illegal…. For may of them , the daily experience is: It’s legal and if you really need one you can probably figure out how to get one. So when we send out e-mail alerts saying, "Oh my God, write to your senator," it’s hard for young people to have that same sense or urgency.
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True, there has been no single event to inspire Millennials to fight for the right to abortion. But, as the Times points out—and as New York Magazine thoroughly covered—the other change for our generation has been the development of the sonogram.
As fetal ultrasound technology improved during the nineties, abortion providers, conditioned to reassure patients that the fetus was merely tissue, found it much harder to do so once their patients were staring at images that looked so lifelike. Banking on the emotional power of seeing a beating heart on a television screen—many in the pro-life movement refer to sonograms as “God’s window”—organizations like Focus on the Family began to use this technology to their advantage, sending ultrasound machines to Crisis Pregnancy Centers in an initiative taglined “Revealing Life to Save Life.”
So what does this mean for Millennials? First, it means that we need our theory and rhetoric to catch up with the technology, and quick—otherwise, Roe v. Wade may soon be as obsolete as the tape deck. While we shouldn’t abandon other, more modern issues—such as GLBTQ rights, a distant dream in the 1970s—we should find ways to update our arguments. On Wednesday, the Stop Stupak coalition will hold a “National Day of Action,” which will include a number of abortion rights advocacy groups hosting events and campaigns to inspire pro-choice Millennials to voice our support for pro-choice legislation. Our mothers and grandmothers fought hard to make sure that we could make decisions about our body, and now it’s the Millennial’s duty to ensure that abortion will be safe and legal for the next generation.
Maybe Stupak is just the galvanizing opponent we’ve been looking for.