A New Generation of Abortion Rights Activists

Lauren Guy

Reproductive rights activism has not waned amongst the younger generations; it has evolved. 

The following was first published at ChoiceUSA.org


This week Newsweek published a new article claiming younger generations are more “lukewarm” to abortion rights issues. Using polls, surveys of young Democrats’ voting issues, and the ages of abortion rights groups’ directors, author Sarah Kliff suggests us twenty-somethings are just not as interested in protecting our right to choose.

What interests me here are not the possible reasons why young people might not see anti-choice legislation as much of a threat. Blogger and activist Elise Higgins combats that claim full on:

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Some say that millennials don’t view abortion as imperiled or in need of defense. I beg to differ with this massive generalization. Do I think we need to be defensive about our abortion rights? No. I think we need to launch some offense. From the Hyde Amendment to the Nelson Amendment, universal rights to safe abortions have eroded since Roe, and no one knows that better than young people. We are on the front lines; we’re victims of policies that marginalize poor people, queer people, people of color and people with disabilities. We’re more than aware that abortion rights are imperiled. We live that reality every day.

What interests me mostly is the methodology of Kliff’s observations. She notes that mainstream reproductive rights groups like NARAL and NOW are mostly made up of a “postmenopausal militia,” that Democrats aren’t as uniform on abortion as they used to be, and quotes polls that surely reflect a growing misunderstanding of abortion in general. So in this sense she is absolutely correct: young people don’t run organizations that focus solely on abortion. The Democrats aren’t trustworthy protectors of abortion rights. And anti-choice propaganda, ever-present in any suburban conservative upbringing, does indeed ingrain a wealth of misinformation into the psyches of the newer generations.

What Kliff ignores, however, is monumental. We may not be heading up established organizations that write letters and lobby, but we are starting our own, grassroots organizations that are taking on barriers to abortion access on the ground. We protest, we escort, and most importantly, we listen. For far too long organizations that used catchphrases like “abortion is a personal decision” have ignored the experiences of women who have had them. We’ve seen women who have had abortions go to “the dark side” because it allowed women to feel anger, shame, guilt, and sadness over their abortions; Norma McCorvey or “Jane Roe” is a prime example. When pro-choice groups refuse to take on the more complex side of what we fight for, we close off these experiences instead of addressing them head on. Fortunately, the rise of the “pro-voice” movement, right from within our own generation, has stepped up to the plate to make sure we do not make that mistake again.

We have also evolved in our understanding of feminism in general. The second-wavers who founded NARAL and NOW paved the way for us to have and protect the legal right to abortion, but what of the personal ability? My generation has seen legal abortion fail countless times as Roe gets hammered away at, and we have seen what happens when access is limited. My generation is one that has began to take into account the racial differences within reproductive issues, and we are beginning to mainstream discussions about reproductive justice: a far cry from wealthy white women not wanting to have babies, we see that, throughout history, women of color have been coerced into not having babies. We’ve begun to recognize that access to abortion is tangled up in a web of restriction in all matters reproductive, from contraception to abortion, from coerced sterilization to birthing options.

Public opinion is always a tricky battleground. By the time we grow to understand the reasons why people are dissuaded from supporting abortion rights, anti-choice factions have already launched new attacks. They’ve been successful in playing the “compassion” card, for example. Crisis pregnancy centers work to the detriment of true choice by manipulating a vulnerable woman’s options, and they do it all in the vain of “supporting women.” That abortion doesn’t really cause breast cancer, infertility, or depression is beyond importance; all it really takes is a woman in a white lab coat in a clinic-like environment, and suddenly her claim is legitimate.

Abortion rights activism has not waned, it has evolved. Even in the “good old days” that brought us such fantastic mother organizations such as NARAL and NOW, there was a struggle to find women who would give their lives to the cause. Abortion has always been a battleground issue in Congress, and it will continue to be; that several anti-choice legislators dominate the debate is nothing new. And though public opinion about abortion is continually manipulated with nonfacts and reframing, I can assure the postmenopausal militia that we are not giving up. As legislative obstacles were your battleground, public opinion and access campaigns are ours, and like you, we do not plan on losing.

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