By Andrew Jenkins
[This post originally appeared on 1/26/11 in RH Reality Check, in conjunction with Choice USA]
When I arrived at college about three and a half years ago, I had no clue that abortion was a controversial or divisive issue. Then, my best friend faced an unintended and unwanted pregnancy. I began to truly understand the meaning of choice. When she came to me for support, I had to make my own choice. I could continue on as if I had no moral or ethical obligation to help my friend, or I could support her with love and compassion. I made the choice to stand with my friend that day, and I have been an advocate for reproductive justice ever since.
My story is like that of so many other young people. These experiences move us to be at the forefront of the struggle for reproductive justice. They make us able to shape the movement with visionary creativity and groundbreaking innovative strategies.
Yet, at times, our experience and efforts seem to be undervalued. An unfortunate theme creeps into the mainstream reproductive rights movement: Young people are apathetic about reproductive rights. As a campus organizer, I have found that young people are anything but apathetic. We are concerned about the issues that directly implicate our lives. We’re ready to transgress the current political landscape on abortion. We are working to engage the reproductive justice movement in unique and cutting-edge ways, from online activism to good old campus organizing. For our visionary creativity to shine, we need to be educated. We need to be activated. We need to have a voice at the decision-making table. Our ideas need to be taken seriously.
Our dedication to the reproductive justice movement is personal. The anti-choice movement has taken particular interest in denying young people the resources we need to make healthy and informed decisions about our bodies. Abstinence-only education. Parental notification and consent initiatives. Limited public funding for contraception for those under 20. Through these initiatives, we are denied self-determination. However, the denial of self-determination doesn’t stop with our reproductive rights.
Young people understand the ways in which reproductive and sexual health and rights are connected to other social justice issues. This interconnectedness became all too apparent to me when I interned at Planned Parenthood. During my internship, I was given the task of reading through hundreds of stories from women, men and teens about their experiences with Planned Parenthood. Hearing the diversity of experiences among these stories changed my perspective and my sense of urgency for social, political and economic justice.
Now, I refuse to play by the rules of a single-narrative, single-issue movement, and I’ve noticed that most of my peers are doing the same. We know that in order to truly achieve reproductive justice, we must struggle to eliminate all forms of oppression. Without fighting for immigrant rights, LGBTQ equality, racial and economic justice, environmental sustainability and a variety of other issues directly impacting the lives of young people, we can never really win.
That’s the interesting thing about Roe. It’s revolutionary impact on the history of abortion politics in the United States just isn’t enough. If low-income women aren’t able to afford an abortion; if young people aren’t able to make autonomous choices about our health without the consent of a guardian; and if certain people aren’t afforded the right to have children; the rights achieved through Roe become meaningless for a large number of people.
We may not be Generation Roe, but we know the importance of Roe and we are celebrating it in a new way. We are taking the strategies of our pro-choice predecessors, and reinventing them to meet our needs. We understand that Roe is a call for transformation and a symbol of our continued commitment to reproductive justice. We also understand that Roe provides the anti-choice movement with an opportunity to capitalize on young people. We know that our participation in the reproductive justice movement is critical. We are ready to fight. We are ready to win.