Friday, April 23, 2010

Young People & Choice

In this week's edition of Newsweek, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan was quoted in an article entitled, "Remember Roe! How Can the Next Generation Defend Abortion Rights When They Don't Think Abortion Rights Need Defending". Unfortunately, Ms. Keenan's comments hit a nerve with many young pro-choice activists who often feel discouraged and ignored by more seasoned feminists in this movement. On the NARAL Pro-Choice America blog, Nancy explained her Newsweek quote and highlighted NARAL's new research on young people and voting pro-choice. Her comments and the new research are focused on young people who consider themselves pro-choice but aren't at all likely to be vocal about it and as the research showed, aren't likely to vote based on being pro-choice either.

As a 28 year old Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, I am what they consider a "millenial" and I too was initially offended by the Newsweek article. But, once I read Ms. Keenan's blog and understood what the research was trying to get at--Why the majority of young pro-choice women don't vote pro-choice-- I became frustrated for other reasons.

First of all, stop calling us post-Roe. That may be true, but it ignores and all but denies the fact that we grew up within an abortion context. Our context was one of extreme divisiveness, in which clinics were being bombed, doctors were being killed, and the Catholic Church told our friends and family members that abortion was wrong. I don't find it shocking at all that the young people surveyed in this poll didn't think the right to access abortion is in jeopardy, because I think that many young people have chosen to remove themselves from the debate. And for many "millenials" that's all that pro-choice/pro-life is...a debate, a fight, an argument that they would much rather ignore than take part in.

The second important thing highlighted by this research is that "millenials" are more likely to see abortion as a moral issue. Again, not shocked and again, consider our context. For many in my generation, religion was still a central part of the family life, that is until we came of age and were no longer required to attend. For years, many young people were taught by their religion or heard from the religion of others that abortion is wrong and unacceptable and so there is an inherent "guilt" associated with abortion.

It is important to note though, that millenials are less religious than older Americans and fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. Regardless of our religious upbringing or current beliefs, I think that for many young people, religion isn't as black and white as it was for the generations before us. Morality & beliefs may influence our decisions but religion doesn't dictate them. So, when I hear that a young person can think abortion is wrong but not think it should be illegal, I understand. I may not agree with something, but that doesn't give me the right to tell someone else what to do.

Lastly, it's time to stop using the, "you never grew up in a time when abortion was illegal" in an accusatory way and start seeing that in context. You're right, abortion has always been legal for us, so telling us over and over again to "Keep Abortion Legal" seems stale and a little bit extreme. What we need to focus on, and NARAL Pro-Choice America does a good job of this, is the fact that while pro-lifers would rather continue debating over abortion, pro-choicers are interested in addressing the underlying reasons why women seek abortions in the first place--lack of sex education, cost of birth control, rape, incest, etc. Abortion must be kept legal because everyone's experience is different.

Lastly, can we have a re-count on "millenials"...really, who came up with that?

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