Commentary Politics

Young People: The Most Powerful and Untapped Resource in the Battle for Reproductive Justice

Andrew Jenkins

With the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade a little over a month away, and the 2012 election right around the corner, I can’t help but think about the popularly speculated relationship between abortion rights and young people.

With the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade a little over a month away, and the 2012 election right around the corner, I can’t help but think about the popularly speculated relationship between abortion rights and young people.

It wasn’t very long ago that the media was busy theorizing the supposed absence of young folks in the battle for reproductive health.  It’s a deafening theme that refuses to relinquish its stranglehold over the public consciousness. Scapegoating blame is much easier than taking us seriously. 

The message to young pro-choice activists around the country continues to be clear: if we aren’t organizing the way our previous generations were, on their issues, we aren’t organizing at all.

This blatantly false assumption that young people are apathetic and absent from the reproductive rights movement is unfortunately alive and kicking. And I’m not just talking about the infamous 2010 Newsweek article alleging that young women are complacent with the right-wing assault on reproductive freedom. I’m talking about the pervasive narrative written into the very fabric of our movement and the subpar attempt to rewrite that narrative.

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The truth is, we may not relate to Roe in the same way that our pro-choice predecessors do, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about reproductive and sexual health. If the successful endeavor to fund comprehensive sex education and include no-cost birth control in the Affordable Care Act showed us anything, it’s that young people are more than willing to mobilize around the issues they care about.

The overarching fear perpetrated by our previous generation is that we’ve never experienced the loss of agency that occurs in a world without legal abortion services. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

My generation has witnessed the most callus and galvanized anti-abortion movement in history and we’ve seen the legal right to an abortion become meaningless in the face of insurmountable restrictions placed on young people. Teenagers are consistently denied access to truthful information about sex and sexuality. Young women across the country are being stripped of their decision-making power through parental notification and consent laws. Pharmacists are denying young women access to emergency contraception because of their “personal morality.” Crisis Pregnancy Centers are proliferating misleading information in our communities. As I write this article, Catholic Bishops are busy lobbying the President to undermine birth control access for millions of young women.

If we’re going to have a fighting chance at preventing the anti-choice insurgency from stripping away the very few rights we have left to control our own bodies, we’re going to need young people. The movement has a responsibility to prioritize our issues, not simply appease us with a few tokenizing attempts at addressing our concerns. Make no doubt about it: the anti-choice establishment is engaging young people. They’re crafting strategic language and mobilizing young people to speak in a deafening tone on college campuses around the country, while simultaneously pushing a political agenda that undermines the very health and well being of our youth.

If we don’t prioritize young people, this ship is going to sink.

The Health and Human Services Department just overruled a decision by the FDA to allow teenage girls to purchase Plan B without a prescription. We shouldn’t act surprised. Until the movement begins to centralize young people and include them in the decision-making process, those in power will continue to sell us out. Why? Because they know they can.   

There is no doubt in my mind that the reproductive rights movement can mobilize young people in record numbers. Choice USA, a leading youth-led and youth-focused reproductive justice organization, for example, is mobilizing a diverse, upcoming generation of pro-choice leaders and helping young people win on issues that matter to them in every region around the country. Youth organizations like Choice USA are changing the political landscape and empowering young people with the agency to shape reproductive rights legislation in this country.

But they can’t do it alone.

If we want to win, we have to abandon the single-issue narrative that continues to alienate young people, and instead, build a framework for our movement that is intersectional and inclusive. We have to continue talking about the war on abortion rights, but we can’t treat it as if it’s an isolated issue anymore. We have to build messages and campaigns that emphasize the connection between reproductive rights and other social justice movements like immigration and environmental justice. We need to abandon sex education that is heteronormative and treats teenage sexuality as a crisis to be controlled. Then we need to replace it with a truly comprehensive agenda that is sex-positive and empowers young people.

We need to ensure that Emergency Contraception is available over-the-counter so that all people have access, regardless of their age. We need pro-choice organizations to stop throwing events with ticket prices that young people can’t afford to pay. We need to prioritize an electoral campaign in 2012 that engages, registers, and educates young people from all walks of life on the issues they care most about.

We need to engage communities previously left behind or written off by the movement. LGBT communities. Young people. Conservative women. Men. Low-income families. People of color. We can’t afford to continue letting anti-choice extremists prey on the marginalized communities left behind by our movement.

The bottom line is simple. Either we fundamentally reshape the very framework of our movement and engage young people on the issues they care about, or we sit idly by as our opponents continue to exploit the most powerful and untapped resource in the war on reproductive rights.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

News Politics

Ohio Legislator: ‘Aggressive Attacks’ May Block Voters From the Polls

Ally Boguhn

Efforts to remove voters from state rolls and curb access to the polls could have an outsized impact in Ohio, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership.

Ohio Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) said she is worried about the impact of what she called “aggressive attacks” on voting rights in her state.

Ohio voters who have not engaged in voter activity in a fixed period of time, generally two years, are considered by the state to have moved, which then begins the process of removing them from their rolls through something called the “Supplemental Process.” If a voter fails to respond to a postcard mailed to them to confirm their address, they become “inactive voters.” If an inactive voter does not engage in voter activity for four years, they’re automatically unregistered to vote and must re-register to cast a ballot. 

Though other states routinely clean voting rolls, most don’t use failure to vote as a reason to remove someone.

“We have two million voters purged from the rolls in the last five years, many in the last four years since the last presidential election,” Clyde said during an interview with Rewire

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) dismissed concerns of the voter purges’ impact during an interview with Reuters. “If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period,” he said.

Ohio’s removal of voters through this process “is particularly problematic in the lead-up to the November 2016 federal election because voters who voted in the high-turnout 2008 federal election (but who did not vote in any subsequent elections) were removed from voter rolls in 2015,” according to an amicus curiae brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights division in support of those who filed suit against Ohio’s law. 

The DOJ has urged the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court’s ruling in favor of the state, writing that Ohio’s voter purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Since 2012, at least 144,000 voters have been removed from Ohio’s voter rolls in its three biggest counties, Reuters reported. The secretary of state’s office said 2 million registered voters had been taken off the rolls in the past five years, though many had been removed because they were deceased.

Husted contends that he is just enforcing the law. “Ohio manages its voter rolls in direct compliance of both federal and state laws, and is consistent with an agreement in this same federal court just four years ago,” Husted said in an April statement after the ACLU of Ohio and Demos, a voting rights organization, filed a lawsuit in the matter.

In predominantly Black neighborhoods near downtown Cincinnati, “more than 10 percent of registered voters have been removed due to inactivity since 2012,” reported Reuters. The outlet found that several places where more voters had cast ballots for President Obama in 2012 were the same locations experiencing higher percentages of purged voters.

“Some of the data is showing that African Americans voters and Democratic voters were much more likely affected,” Clyde said when discussing the state’s purge of registered voters. 

Clyde has requested data on those purged from the rolls, but has been turned down twice. “They’ve said no in two different ways and are referring me to the boards of elections, but there are 88 boards of election,” she told RewireWith limited staff resources to devote to data collection, Clyde is still searching for a way to get answers.

In the meantime, many otherwise eligible voters may have their votes thrown away and never know it.

“[P]eople that had been purged often don’t know that they’ve been purged, so they may show up to vote and find their name isn’t on the roll,” Clyde said. “Then, typically that voter is given a provisional ballot and … told that the board of elections will figure out the problem with their voter registration. And then they don’t really receive notice that that provisional ballot doesn’t eventually count.” 

Though the state’s voter purges could continue to disenfranchise voters across the state, it is hardly the only effort that may impact voting rights there.

“There have been a number of efforts undertaken by the GOP in Ohio to make voting more difficult,” Clyde said. “That includes fighting to shorten the number of early voting days available, that includes fighting to throw out people’s votes that have been cast—whether it be a provisional ballot or absentee ballot—and that includes purging more voters than any other state.” 

This could make a big difference for voters in the state, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership—including failed Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich.

“So aside from the terrible effect that has on the fundamental right to vote in Ohio, progressives who maybe are infrequent voters or are seeing what’s happening around [reproductive rights and health] issues and want to express that through their vote may experience problems in Ohio because of these aggressive attacks on voting rights,” Clyde said. 

“From our presidential candidates on down to our candidates for the state legislature, there is a lot at stake when it comes to reproductive health care and reproductive rights in this election,” Clyde added. “So I think that, if that is an issue that is important to any Ohioan, they need to have their voice heard in this election.” 


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