by Hannah Joseph, NLIRH Policy Intern
What did January 22nd mean to me as the anniversary of Roe v. Wade? I am a new policy intern working for NLIRH between semesters in college. This position represents my first official advocacy position in reproductive rights outside of my college campus. As part of the cohort of women born after 1973, for me, abortion has always been a protected right and an assumed possibility. Without even having to think critically about whether I would choose to have one myself, I was able to assume that having an abortion would be a possibility for me. Does this make me “casually pro-choice”?
This question was brought to mind when reading the recent NewsWeek article that identifies a lack of intensity in young pro-choice advocates. This sentiment is consistent with the common political trope that that young people do not care about reproductive health. According to a NARAL survey from early 2011, 51 percent of young voters (under 30) who opposed abortion rights considered it a “very important” voting issue, compared with just 26 percent of abortion-rights supporters. The young respondents did not view abortion as a right in need of defenders. Does this “intensity gap” mean that the pro-choice movement is losing its young supporters?
No! Though I have grown up in a post-Roe v. Wade reality of legally protected abortion, there is nothing casual about my pro-choice views. Perhaps I have been the spoiled child of the baby boomer generation of activists in assuming abortion as my protected right. That does not mean that I am any less vehement in my belief that every woman has the right to decide what happens to her own body. In line with my personal perspective, I believe that perceived official silence of young women does not reflect a general lack of interest.
In fact, the majority of young people are pro-choice. NARAL found that 61% of people under 30 are “pro-choice,” supporting legal abortion in “all cases” or “most cases.” Moreover, women in their 20s account for more than half of all abortions. So, young people are personally engaged with their reproductive rights. For pro-choice activism, it is a question of connecting political activism and voting habits with those experiences and view.
Though those under the age of 39 have not experienced the pre-Roe v. Wade reality of state dictated limitations on reproductive rights, the legislative proceedings of this past year introduced a glimpse of that reality. According to Guttmacher Institute data, of the 135 reproductive health provisions passed in 2011, 92 laws restrict women’s access to abortion in 24 states. That’s twice as many anti-choice measures passed in 2011 as the previous year. The personhood debate and introduction of Personhood Amendments in Mississippi and other states has demonstrated the vulnerability of reproductive choice. Further Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) bills have been introduced to limit abortion access by singling out abortion providers for medically unnecessary, politically motivated state regulations. Removal of state funding for Planned Parenthood also reduced access to the reproductive healthcare services. The Texas Ultrasound Law, which has similarly been introduced in other states, invades privacy of women by requiring women to get an ultrasound before undergoing the procedure. This requirement also increases cost to women, many of whom may be living in states that have banned insurance coverage for abortion.
According to president of NARAL Pro-Choice American Foundation Nancy Keenan, 2012 could be even worse for women’s reproductive rights. Since 44 states governments are under anti- or mixed-choice control, it will be exceedingly difficult to stop anti-choice bills like abortion-coverage bans or proposals to de-fund family planning programs.
Whether this fable of the greying pro-choice movement reflects a real dearth of young supporters or not, perhaps the state restrictions to abortion access will enable young supporters to see the vulnerability of reproductive rights and more vigorously act to defend them.
If we assume that lived experience and personal environment influence individual perspectives on reproductive choice, I wonder whether recent limitations on abortion access in the past year have awakened the intensity of young pro-choice advocates to pre-Roe pressures. For me, it has. This year, January 22nd inspires new energy in my own journey of reproductive rights advocacy. I see the political vulnerability of the reproductive choices I inherited and I am compelled to act to protect them.
That is why, as an intern, I support NLIRH’s new civic engagement campaign, Soy Poderosa, to mobilize, collaborate and amplify the voices of Latinas and their allies across the country to advocate for reproductive health and justice. I have also begun to think about my power as a student, to make change on my campus, in the community beyond, and in the nation as a whole. I encourage other students and young people to project our voices and stand for choice this year. Rather than being an activist in spite of being a millennial, as an undergraduate student emerging now into official advocacy, I recognize that one of the reasons that soy poderosa es porque soy una estudiante. Even as my internship here at NLIRH ends, I will look for new ways to express and exercise that power.