The Key to Unlocking the Youth Vote: Why Birth Control Is a Force Multiplier in the 2012 Election


Beginning August 1, 2012, for the first time in the history of this country, access to birth control without a co-pay will be a reality for millions of young people across the country. To underscore this moment—or fail to maximize its transformative potential—would be a grave mistake.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the Millennial generation will now benefit from a provision in the law that fundamentally changes the landscape of sexual and reproductive health in this country. With the fall semester quickly approaching, college students will no longer face the difficult choice between paying for books, and affording their birth control.

Tracey Hickey, a Choice USA activist and student leader at the University of Pittsburgh, elaborates on the cost-benefit of birth control coverage for college women,

I don’t think a woman should have to decide whether to keep taking a birth control pill that gives her terrible side effects, because it’s the only brand whose co-pay she can afford. I don’t think a woman should have to decide whether to enroll in a birth control study and rely on a pill that isn’t on the market yet, not because the compensation is great, but because it’s the only way to get contraception for free. Starting now, with co-pay-free birth control under the Affordable Care Act, college women don’t have to make those tough decisions anymore. Now that we can cross “how do I afford my birth control” off our lists of things to worry about, college women can focus on making the kinds of decisions we want to make, the ones that empower us to choose what we want from our lives.

Beyond the material benefits of the contraceptive mandate, there is also a unique political trajectory to be seized upon. You see, access to birth control is about more than just health care.

Birth control access is a force multiplier for young people.

Access to a wide range of affordable birth control options gives young people economic power, and it enables us to exercise agency over our own bodies. That’s a powerful thing. So powerful, in fact, that it scares the shit out of the policy makers and power structures that rely on us being alienated from our own bodies. Because when young people are subjugated and disenfranchised, systems of power thrive.

So if our electoral candidates expect their one-dimensional campaign narratives about the economy to resonate with young people, they better start talking about birth control. If political organizations and action committees want young people to mobilize and vote in this election, they better start talking about birth control.

Make no mistake about it: this is a unique political moment. It’s a political moment that carries with it the potential of politicizing our generation in ways previously unimaginable; the potential to challenge entrenched systems and transform oppressive paradigms.

But it isn’t sufficient enough to celebrate this moment as a victory for young people. We have to celebrate this as a victory for young people, won by young people. The contraceptive mandate would not be here today if it weren’t for the record number of young activists who demanded that birth control be included as preventive health care. This provision wouldn’t be here today had it not been for the youth-led and youth-focused organizations that made strategic investments in young activists.

It’s time to double down on those investments.

If the ongoing controversy over birth control coverage has taught us anything, it’s that young people are a force to be reckoned with, and we get active – we get politically engaged – when our issues take center stage. Over the past year and a half, the Millennial generation moved from a climate of low voter turnout in the 2010 Midterm election, to a moment of incredible civic engagement. And we did it in the face of unwarranted accusations that we’re a generation of apathy. We forced hundreds of sponsors to drop Rush Limbaugh after his vicious attacks against young American women. We effectively prevented the doubling of student loan rates. We stopped Virginia from passing an extremist trans-vaginal ultrasound bill. And we educated thousands of new young people about the benefits provided in the Affordable Care Act.   

Young people have never been apathetic.

At times, we may have been skeptical. And in the 2010 Midterm election, some of us opted out of the voting process. But if that has become our litmus test for evaluating the political engagement of this generation, I’m afraid we’re missing the boat entirely. Young people aren’t going to vote in this election because a bunch of out-of-touch politicians and political parties tell us to. We’re going to vote because we understand that the issues that matter most to our well-being hang in the balance.    

There is more at stake for young people in 2012 than ever before and we have to seize this political moment for what it is: an opportunity to strategically invest in young people. We have to give them the information and resources they need to take back our political system from the institutions and power structures that benefit from our disenfranchisement.

As a country, we need to ditch the tired stereotypes that young people are passive and disillusioned. We need to stop scapegoating blame and take responsibility for the fact that the political narrative we continue to rely on leaves young people in the periphery.

With less than one hundred days left before the election, we need to prioritize a different narrative. We need to elevate a storyline that celebrates the benefits of the birth control mandate and politicizes the emerging threats to take these benefits away from us.

At this very moment, anti-choice forces are working tirelessly to roll back access to sexual and reproductive rights. Nine states have considered legislation or ballot measures that would roll back birth control coverage. Hercules Industries was successful (for now) in exempting itself from the contraceptive mandate, setting a dangerous precedent that a corporation has the right to selectively deny its employees access to imperative, life-saving health care services. In the U.S. House of Representatives, an appropriations measure is pending that could effectively eliminate the implementation and enforcement of the birth control provision. And in 2012, voter suppression efforts stand a chance of disenfranchising five million voters, hitting young people the hardest.

That’s the political moment we’re living in.

The good news is that the power of the youth vote is boundless, and if we play our cards right, we can make the 2012 election a referendum on sexual and reproductive freedom. If we play our cards right, we can tap into the most powerful electoral force in the country and build the systemic and cultural change our generation desperately needs and deserves.  

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  • tj

    In summary, when the youth can copulate unfettered by archaic religious constructs, and when proper jurisprudence is seen as merely a balancing of conflicting interests, social nirvana will be achieved.  These certainly aren’t new ideas–they occur to everyone at some point in their teen-aged years–but so much for Aristotle’s views on the law as “virtue”.  Anyway, energy and enthusiasm are good, but not goods in themselves; it depends on what goal is being enthusiastically pursued.  If your opponents are right–and contraception is not liberty, but rather a mechanism whereby men absolve themselves of sexual responsibility while using women as objects–your enthusiasm will be no less dramatic, but much more tragic.

  • jennifer-starr

    tj, you do realize that over 99% of women have used contraception, right?  That includes young people, adults, single people, married people, Evangelicals, Catholics (yes dear, Catholics) , Democrats and Republicans.  ( Rush Limbaugh–married four times and yet, no little Limbaughs running around–just let that sink in for a bit) I know you might like to think that only a certain ‘type’ of person uses contraception, but it just isn’t so. 

  • scholro

    You also realize that it means that women can be responsibile for their own procreation and enjoy sex as they see fit?  Is that what you have a problem with?

  • tj

    I’m not sure what Catholic women and Rush Limbaugh have to do with anything.

     

    Do men in our society use contraception as a way to use women without regard or responsiblity toward them?

  • colleen

    If your opponents are right–and contraception is not liberty, but rather a mechanism whereby men absolve themselves of sexual responsibility while using women as objects–your enthusiasm will be no less dramatic, but much more tragic.

    I understand how the religious right might come to this conclusion. After all the men of the religious right have been taught from birth to  hold contempt towards women and to treat us as their inferiors, their servants, creatures to be bought and owned.  Naturally such men would regard women they use as masturbatory aids as objects.

    What puzzles me is why y’all think that reducing us to our reproductive functions is a step up. We are clearly still objects to the ‘pro-life’ movement. In the world you imagine, we’re no better than talking livestock.

    Men have never been responsible. Men have always fucked anything that moved including small children and  animals. Men have always beat us, raped us, used our bodies. The notion that our embrace of effective contraception has cut us off from an era when men were kind and decent and responsible towards women and children is a complete myth.

     

     

  • prochoiceferret

    Do men in our society use contraception as a way to use women without regard or responsiblity toward them?

     

    Why would a man bother with contraception if he has no regard or responsibility toward a woman?

  • jennifer-starr

    I think this is coming from an idea that if a man doesn’t use contraception and is forced to be responsible for a baby–by marrying the woman–that shows regard for her??? Which is what they think all women must want, apparently–a man forced to marry them or stay with them because of a baby??? WTF?

    Oh TJ, poor TJ–your logic is so screwed. 

     

    And actually, no–I don’t know what Rush Limbaugh has to do with anything, but the fact that he has not procreated is a source of endless joy :) 

  • tj

    You are interjecting more than I’m saying.  It’s a simple question:  On a sociological level, when a woman desires respect, intimacy, and love from a man (which they apparently do) how will she find it from a large pool of prospects that just want to use her for some fun and walk away?

     

  • jennifer-starr

    And suppose I want sex without babies too? Ever heard of childfree couples?  Or just a committed married couple who chooses to wait before having a baby. Or a couple who has children and doesn’t want more. It is possible, you know. 

      Additionally, as shocking as it may seem to you, a woman can desire to have sex with a man without wanting babies–or even without wanting a permanent relationship. To assume that all women view a sex partner as a potential husband is insulting and sexist. 

  • filberuthie

    What patronizing pap.  Men are capable of absolving themselves of sexual responsibility and using women as objects without contraception ever entering the picture.  In fact, men who won’t use protection – either assuming it’s the woman’s responsibility or determined to really give her something to remember him by because his sperm is so special – fit your description of irresponsible and objectifying a whole lot better.  Are you deluded enough to believe that lack of birth control will stop him?  People are going to be responsible or irresponsible, have enough self-respect to choose who to be intimate with judiciously or give it up for all the wrong reasons, regardless of whether birth control is available.  At least with birth control, hopefully it won’t be an unplanned child who pays the price for it.

  • prochoiceferret

    On a sociological level, when a woman desires respect, intimacy, and love from a man (which they apparently do) how will she find it from a large pool of prospects that just want to use her for some fun and walk away?

     

    Probably by jumping into the prospect pool of men who will offer respect, intimacy and love regardless of whether she wants to use contraception or not. Guess you’re not swimming in that one.

  • filberuthie

    Are you assuming that just because she has birth control she’s using it with “a large pool of prospects that just want to use her…”? That’s sounds suspiciously like saying that women who use b/c are sluts.  The b/c is to prevent a biological event called pregnancy, it has no impact on her mental capabilities or her common sense or her ability to discern the right guy from the asshole.

  • colleen

    On a sociological level, when a woman desires respect, intimacy, and love from a man (which they apparently do) how will she find it from a large pool of prospects that just want to use her for some fun and walk away?

    A good place to start is to never date  ‘pro-life’ men,  Republicans or a Libertarians.

     

     

  • give-em-hell-mary

    She definitely won’t find a spouse, good or bad, if an unwanted pregnancy has killed or grossly maimed her.  Birth control is damage control.  It allows scorned women to start over and look elsewhere.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    LOL!  I’ve met many and not only are they mean, looksist, deceitful, hypocritical, and emotionally infantile, they are also the most sexually unfaithful of all groups.   I think all that abstinence-only nonsense made them sexual bulimics who secretly binge and purge.  This is why the RCC has a massively corrupt clergy problem.  While we’ve heard about the pedophiles, the media hasn’t cauaght up with priests’ adult affairs and secret families.

  • tj

    I didn’t say women can’t enjoy sex.  I didn’t say every sexual act must result in a child.  I didn’t say I was Catholic.  I didn’t say I was male.  I just said that strong cultural pressures that view women as objects for use is oppressive to women.  That should be plain enough.  I also said that contraception exacerbates the problem. 

    I’m glad to hear that you are all very happy in your personal lives, but I’m talking about society.  I’m saying there is a connection between contraception and social ills such as the oppression of women.  Instead of fortright interaction, all you can do is spew vituperation because I have blasphemed your blind religious faith in the theocracy of contraception. 

    Remember that it was you who decided that someone else should pay for your birth control.  I was perfectly happy minding my own business. 

  • jennifer-starr

    Oh dear, I’m so sorry your little pet theory didn’t work out as planned, but you have to realize that it was weak from the start.  As for who’s paying for the contraception, I still have to work to get that insurance or pay premiums to get that package so nothing is free or being paid by others.  So you  can relax a little. 

     

    As for society, kid, we ARE society. We who use or have used contraception are in the majority–does 99% mean anything to you?  And I’m betting that includes your mommy and daddy as well, unless your last name is Duggar…. 

     

  • colleen

    I didn’t say women can’t enjoy sex.  I didn’t say every sexual act must result in a child.  I didn’t say I was Catholic.  I didn’t say I was male.

    Coyness does not become you.

     

    I just said that strong cultural pressures that view women as objects for use is oppressive to women.

    This is true. That’s why right wing ‘pro-life’ views are so grotesque. You folks don’t just try to apply “strong social pressures”, you also try to make any option other than your idiot beliefs illegal. Nobody is forcing women to use contraception. Most women don’t WANT to have 7 or 8 kids. We’re concentrating on trying to feed the ones already born.(a cause the religious right has yet to take up)

    I also said that contraception exacerbates the problem.

    Yes, you did say that. Apparently you didn’t read the replies to that particuar bit of nonsense nor have you produced any evidence to substantiate your claim. All you need to is demonstrate that there was a time before modern contraception when men and the laws of men treated women with the respect you promise if we just say no to contraception. There has never been such a time. Contraception has made the lives of women immeasurably better.

     

    OTOH, there is tons of evidence to demonstrate that the religious right (and the RCC is surely part of the RR)  teaches a profound disrespect towards women as a foundational belief. Indeed one of the defining characteristics of the culture warriors on the right is contempt towards women.

    Instead of fortright interaction, all you can do is spew vituperation because I have blasphemed your blind religious faith in the theocracy of contraception. 

    Funny.