Hmm, Do You Think Your Reproductive Rights “Don’t Need Defending”?

Hey, Newsweek subscribers, brace yourselves for a really annoying article in the upcoming April 26th issue: We young folks are “lukewarm” on reproductive rights and “don’t think abortion rights need defending.” Now, I’m not sure how writer Sarah Kliff came to that conclusion. Her own article not only references Gallup polls which found support for abortion rights have been between 75 and 85 percent since 1975, but also references a poll by the National Abortion Rights Action League that found 61 percent of young people support legal abortion in “all” or “most cases.” However, she quotes a small NARAL poll of only 700 people under age 30, which found 51 percent of abortion opponents feel very strongly that abortion is a voting issue, compared to 26 percent of abortion supporters. Combine all this data together and what does it say? Maybe reproductive rights opponents feel more strongly, whatever that means, but there are more proponents.

Nevertheless, Kliff declared reproductive rights are “less pressing” than ever before.

Sure, young people could seem complacent about their reproductive rights if you measure us by the same yardstick used in the ’60s and ’70s. Anyone born in the U.S. after 1973, when Roe vs. Wade effectively legalized abortion, has never known a world in which your freshman year roommate dies from an infection from a dangerous, illegal abortion or your unwed sister gets “sent away” to have her baby in seclusion after she gets pregnant. We don’t have those raw memories like our mothers and grandmothers do (who NARAL president Nancy Keenan calls the “postmenopausal militia”). And the widespread proliferation of ultrasound images — especially when used by abortion opponents in a manipulative and heart-wrenching way — has surely affected the way young people view fetuses.

But it’s a different time period and time for a different yardstick. Newsweek’s proclamation that young voters are “lukewarm” about their reproductive rights is just straight-up wrong: They are rights we’ve always known, so we are not willing to see them taken away. And with so many ways to control our reproduction — the pill, the patch, Depo-Provera, IUDs, Seasonale, etc. etc. — I’d wager we’re more personally engaged with our reproductive health than any other generation before us.

Indeed, reproductive rights have suffered some demoralizing setbacks: President Bush’s late-term abortion ban; many states’ passing of so-called “conscience clauses” that allow a religious pharmacist to refuse to dispense you birth control, the morning-after pill or the abortion pill; the May 2009 murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller; an abortion-restricting bill recently passed in Nebraska that claimed a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks.

But it’s when these setbacks occur that you see the supporters of all ages spring into action: rallying, marching, writing, donating money, calling our Congressional representatives. Groups like the Feminist Majority Foundation and the National Organization for Women have dozens of campus groups. In 2004, millions of women attended the March For Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C. — the largest pro-choice march ever. We elected a pro-choice president and both the Speaker of the House and the Secretary of State are also outspoken on the issue. And last but not least, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of blogs read by young people — including this very one that you are reading — that write about reproductive rights issues all the time.

But Newsweek’s article claiming young voters “don’t think abortion rights need defending” did not mention any of this.

Was it sloppy reporting? Intentional “media baiting” to get bloggers like me to react? Who knows.

But I, personally, resent being characterized as apathetic on a topic about which I am anything but. [Newsweek]