Responding to Newsweek: Young Women Lead a Vibrant Reproductive Justice Movement

An article this week in Newsweek sparked a debate about the role of younger voters in prochoice advocacy.  RH Reality Check has published a number of articles by pro-choice leaders on these issues, includling Elise Higgins, Tatiana Mckinney, CPC-watcher, and Aspen Baker, and a response to the debate by Nancy Keenan, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America. This post originally appeared on the Ms. Foundation’s Igniting Change blog. 

The title of a recent Newsweek article alone — “Remember Roe! How can the next generation defend abortion rights when they don’t think abortion rights need defending?” — would ruffle the feathers of most reproductive rights advocates; the argument within has set off a flurry of discussion and counterpoint nationwide.

In “Remember Roe!” Sarah Kliff makes a disconcerting assertion that young women of the post-Roe v. Wade generation are apathetic towards reproductive rights and therefore, potentially responsible for current and future rollbacks. Our experience with advocates across the country paints a very different picture — particularly when you start asking the question, “Which young women?”

For over 20 years, the Ms. Foundation for Women has witnessed firsthand the innovative leadership of women in their late teens, 20s and 30s who are directing organizations and using creative, community-based strategies to increase the number of people voting for reproductive rights. With these women we have worked to build a broader, more diverse constituency for reproductive rights, health and justice, supporting local and state groups led by and for young, low-income women and women of color. Groups like Choice USA or Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) in Denver or advocates like Kirbie Platero of Young Women United in Albuquerque, New Mexico who represent a passionate, talented and vibrant movement for reproductive health, rights and justice.

These young advocates are increasingly successful because they understand that one size does not fit all — that past “tried-and-true” approaches to reproductive rights advocacy might not speak to everyone, especially today. They’re creating new strategies that meet their communities where they are at. They’re bringing people traditionally written off as unlikely allies or lacking political power into the reproductive rights movement. They’re making links between abortion rights and issues like sex education in schools, jobs, LGBTQ equality and the environment. And they’re broadening their messaging to go beyond “pro-choice” or “pro-life” in order to reach many more people for whom these terms are outdated.

For example, in November 2008, COLOR helped defeat by a slim margin a Colorado state ballot initiative on fetal personhood by launching a Spanish-language media campaign that tailored messages to a Latina/o audience and building partnerships with labor and racial justice groups to expand the base of support for reproductive justice in that election and beyond.

Young women — and their families and communities — still care intensely about reproductive rights, they just need to be engaged in new ways. And we must support their efforts now more than ever — not only in election years. Young women and the organizations they lead need serious, ongoing investments that will enable them to conduct community organizing and advocacy on a far bigger scale than what they’ve had the capacity to do thus far. Indeed, it’s well past time that we all place our trust in young, low-income women and women of color whose strategies and solutions will ensure the reproductive rights movement is relevant, strong and sustainable for generations to come.

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  • trista

    I agree that young women need to be engaged in new ways. It’s fairly obvious to me, that women my age were raised thinking that we could and did have it all. So are we coming out in droves to protect something we don’t feel is threatened? Of course not. Trust me, it’s not that young women don’t see the protesters, hear the news, or get the controversy. But it’s old. How long have they been out there? How long have they been threatening it’ll all get taken away? For women born in the 80’s they are the protesters that cried wolf.

    So, I suggest, for young women like myself who are deeply in drenched in this fight, and understand it’s depth, stop asking why no one thinks we’re involved, and start proving it. If the women of previous generations refuse to see or hear us, then we need to stand up and speak louder. If they don’t provide us with leadership opportunities, create them. Eventually they’ll hear us, and I promise we’ll get everyone’s attention. Isn’t that what being an advocate is all about?


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