Being a young, unapologetic abortion activist and outspoken blogger, I tend to critique the mainstream, pro-choice movement for its lack of inclusivity, unwillingness to take the opinions of young people seriously, and constant criticism that not enough young people are in the movement or that no people in my generation care about reproductive rights.
We hear about this all the time. Two years before stepping down from her position at NARAL Pro-Choice America, Nancy Keenan voiced her concerns that there were no passionate young people to help carry the torch after the leaders in her generation retired. Others, such as Johnathan Allen, asks how groups like NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and NOW can “fire up” young women who have not known a time without legal abortion and nondiscrimination laws.
I don’t know what world they’ve been living in, but not only have there always been young people involved in the movement, but things haven’t been the greatest for abortion access in the US since the passing of Roe, and I don’t just mean in the last five years. Roe was groundbreaking, but Hyde was passed three years later and was followed by other bans, so when we talk about abortion access for everyone in the US post-Roe, we’re talking about people with the means to access abortion. If the media and those at the top of women’s organizations they think that there haven’t been people fighting since Hyde, they are only looking at the most privileged, most visible segment of the movement. That’s why the National Network of Abortion Funds exists, that’s why Sister Song exists, and that’s why we’ve abandoned the term pro-choice and started to think about reproductive justice. Those battles just haven’t been mainstream battles, and they haven’t been the battles that all leaders have engaged with.
As a young feminist and abortion rights activist, I am grateful to those people who fought for the freedoms I have today and who built the foundation for me to be able to do my work. But I am more grateful to those who fought before me and then embraced my views and participation in the movement.
No matter where we fit in the movement generationally, we’ve all had someone who has been a mentor or supporter, whether that person is close to us in age or generations above us, because we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere fighting these battles on our own. For me, personally, and I’m sure for many others, my mentors are the reason I am here in the movement. Without people who have supported me and genuinely cared about me, both personally and professionally, I would not have decided to work in abortion access.
I know that those who say that young people aren’t involved in the movement are looking in the wrong places, but I also wonder if they’re not embracing young people. I credit the first person I worked for with my decision to make reproductive justice a part of my life, and if leaders are concerned about the involvement of young people, they need to hire them and value them.
Right now we are fighting what sometimes feels like a losing battle, and we can’t afford to be protective or territorial. We need to embrace our differences, generational and otherwise. We need to stop ignoring those who have devoted their lives to working for reproductive justice in marginalized communities just because they are not working for mainstream organizations. And we need to acknowledge that young people care about abortion as an issue and if we want to continue to involve them we need to value their contributions and ideas.
This doesn’t just go for executive directors and people in positions of power. It goes for all of us, especially as young people who are moving up in the movement. We need to remember those who have supported us and pass it on, to value those just starting out, and support our peers and allies. If we all pledge to do that, then we shouldn’t have to worry about the future of the movement.