Nancy Keenan Responds to Newsweek Article on Young Pro-Choice Activists

Nancy Keenan

Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America addresses reactions to a Newsweek article and NARAL's research on the role of younger voters and advocates in the pro-choice movement.

An article this week in Newsweek sparked a debate about the role of younger voters in prochoice advocacy.  Nancy Keenan responds here to some of this debate, also engaged by Elise Higgins, Tatiana Mckinney, CPC-watcher, and Aspen Baker.

The article from this week’s edition of Newsweek, authored by Sarah Kliff, generated a lot of healthy discussion. All of these opinions have merit, all of these arguments are valid, and all deserve the space and time to marinate both online and offline.

Since I am included in this story, and NARAL Pro-Choice America’s research on younger voters is referenced, I want to explain a bit more of the rationale behind this initiative. 

Myriad blog posts have drawn significant attention to the issue of younger people’s involvement in the pro-choice movement. For instance, this section of the article:

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These leaders will retire in a decade or so. And what worries Keenan is that she just doesn’t see a passion among the post-Roe generation–at least, not among those on her side. This past January, when Keenan’s train pulled into Washington’s Union Station, a few blocks from the Capitol, she was greeted by a swarm of anti-abortion-rights activists. It was the 37th annual March for Life, organized every year on Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe. “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” Keenan recalled. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.” March for Life estimates it drew 400,000 activists to the Capitol this year. An anti-Stupak rally two months earlier had about 1,300 attendees.

Look – if I was a young reproductive-justice activist, I’d be really upset, too. I am not a young activist, and I don’t like the way that paragraph comes off. I see the contributions young feminist activists are making everyday to the pro-choice movement, and I can only imagine how annoying it is for these young women and men to read over and over again about previous generations lamenting a lack of activism.

Like Jessica Valenti notes over at Feministing, young feminist activists are important and crucial players in everything we do, from the big events – like the 2004 March for Women’s Lives, to much of the behind-the-scenes operations – like interning, volunteering, and using online tools for advocacy. Many of them are my colleagues here at NARAL Pro-Choice America (and more than half of my staff is under the age of 35).

Our whole purpose with the research project is to move the conversation forward. Our target audience wasn’t the young people who already are engaged.

It’s clear that many young people are already part of this movement, but there are some who may never attend a rally, post a pro-choice action on their Facebook page, or discuss the political implications of what kind of sex education they received in high school. Their level of involvement isn’t as high, but we must remember that they are voters. As the political leader of the pro-choice movement, it’s imperative for us to connect with these voters now.

The initial research (PDF) shows two primary findings:

  1. Younger people are solidly pro-choice;
  2. However, anti-choice younger voters are twice as likely to consider a candidate’s position on abortion when voting then their pro-choice counterparts.

Our ability to effectively connect with voters who aren’t necessarily activists is crucial if we are to close this intensity gap. That’s why we’re committed to initiatives like our research project that give us the ability to listen and learn from this influential bloc of voters. In short: we have to reach them where they are and bring them to us.

Keep in mind: this research was a start, not the end. We welcome any ideas, thoughts, and strategies on how we can strengthen our ties to this emerging electoral powerhouse. Take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments below, and thank you for your hard work. We would not be here without you.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, these conversations are healthy. I hope that we can all continue to have these discussions.

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