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:

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

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.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”