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Response to Nancy Keenan in Salon: Let’s Set the Record Straight on Millennials and Abortion. Again

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Nancy Keenan

Written by Julia Reticker-Flynn for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Another day, another article about whether or not Millennials care about access to safe abortion care, this time in the form of an interview with outgoing NARAL President Nancy Keenan in Salon in which the commitment of our generation to this issue is once again questioned.

It is time to put to rest the questioning about Millennials and whether they care about access to safe abortion care. It is time to get to work. Too much is at stake, too much ground has been lost, and, for far too many women, safe and affordable abortion care is out of their reach.

So, let’s set the record straight. Again.

Yes, Millennials care about ensuring access to safe, affordable abortion care. They care — deeply and passionately — and many are working tirelessly on this issue.

This generation of young people is more likely to care about the whole range of sexual health and rights issues than older generations. Whether we are talking about LGBT rights, contraception, or abortion, Millennials are taking center stage, and no one should doubt this or call it into question. This generation may just be the most pro-sexual health generation in U.S. history.

In fact, we find Millennials more supportive of access to abortion services in their communities — 68 percent compared with 58 percent adults overall. And, two thirds (67 percent) of Millennials of color agree that “regardless of how I personally feel about abortion, I believe it should remain legal, and women should be able to get safe abortions.” Three-quarters of African American (75 percent) and Asian Pacific Islanders (75 percent) young adults agree with the statement. Six in ten (59 percent) Latinos express support for legal abortion in response this question. 

But even more important, Millennials are showing up on the front lines of this issue.   

Millennials like Carly who did not stand by when anti-choice activists came to her campus but instead was motivated to build a strong base of support for abortion access at the University of Michigan. Carly has started facilitating small group sessions focused on discussing personal experiences with abortion and the ways to address stigma and promote access to safe abortion care. Millennials like Tyler and Eriauna at the University of Kentucky who are standing outside their local clinic every Saturday to ensure people can access services without fear or intimidation.   

Millennials like Delilah and Jess at the University of Virginia who talk to their peers in the center of campus holding signs that read “1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime, these are our stories.”  

From campus activists to clinic escorts to hotline volunteers to directors of abortion funds to doulas to bloggers to policy advocates, Millennials are fearless, bold and innovative activists in support of abortion care.  We should not be ignored, and our commitment to abortion access should not be questioned.  

The work of Millennials — and in fact of the entire movement — will continue to be strengthened if we spend less time asking where they are and more time continuing to train young people in grassroots organizing, to mentor new leaders, to fund their work, and most importantly to respect and value their skills, energy, and leadership.   

Let’s get to work.

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ELECTION 2012: The Power of the Youth Vote

1:51 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Debra Hauser for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Yesterday, any doubt about the power of Millennials was laid to rest. Young people voted at record levels, representing 19 percent of the total voting public — the largest percentage ever, including in the 2008 presidential election.

This generation of youth represents one of the most influential, diverse, and socially progressive generations in our history, and they are engaged and taking part in our country’s political debate and as advocates and leaders in the reproductive and sexual health field.

A few facts about Millennials.

Millennials are growing in influence. Globally, almost half the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — under the age of 25.  The reproductive and sexual health decisions these young people make will determine the size and health of our planet for decades to come.

Here in the United States, there are approximately 64 million Millennials who were eligible to vote in the 2012 election. This means they represented approximately 29 percent of all eligible voters. Early poll data shows that of those who voted in this election, one in five was between the ages of 18 and 29.

Millennials as a group are expected to grow by four million every year through 2020, when they will number 103 million of voting age. Ninety million Millennials will be eligible to vote in 2020, representing almost 40 percent of all eligible voters.

Millennials are diverse. Currently 39 percent of Millennials are young people of color compared to 30 percent of the general population. Nationwide, communities of color are growing. In fact, between 2000 and 2008, communities of color grew by approximately 20 percent accounting for more than four-fifths of U.S. population growth.  Demographers tell us that by 2050 America will become a Minority-Majority nation.  Communities of color will make up fifty-four percent of America and Latinos/Hispanics will make up 30 percent of the total population (up from 15 percent).

Much of this change is fueled by youth. In fact, people of color will represent a majority of young people by the year 2023.

And all of this matters to those of us who care about progressive issues, because Millennials are more socially progressive than their older counterparts. Whether the issue is immigration, race and gender equality, religious freedom, environmental and economic justice, or access to reproductive and sexual health services, including abortion, Millennials are more progressive than their older counterparts.

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As we continue to get more data, it is likely that young people played an important role in a string of progressive victories: reelecting President Obama; turning the tide in favor of marriage equality with wins in Maryland, Maine, and Minnesota, with Washington poised to join them; defeating an anti-choice ballot measure in Florida; electing the largest cohort of women ever to the Senate, including America’s first openly LGBT Senator; and making history with the passage of the Maryland Dream Act.

Over the next four years, young people will continue to lead us towards new solutions and lasting change. We have a responsibility to work alongside them and we call on President Obama and elected leaders across the country to do the same.

Maria Talks and Suddenly Lawmakers are Listening: The Controversy Over A Website Providing Sex Information for Teens

7:47 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Maria Talks, a website with frank sexual health information for young people, has become quite controversial in its home state of Massachusetts since a Boston Herald article in April questioned whether its contents were appropriate. After the article, a number of state legislators announced they were outraged by the site.  Some noted that the information about sex was too graphic—Representative Elizabeth Poirier (R-North Attleborough) went so far as to say “the language used on the site is disgusting. There are words that I would find difficult to speak…”  Others, possibly spurred on by complaints from Massachusetts Citizens for Life, took issue with the website’s description of abortion and, in particular, its explanation of the process by which young women in the state can obtain an abortion without their parents’ permission if necessary.  

The website, which is maintained by the non-profit AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, receives an annual grant of $100,000 from the state Department of Public Health.  Some critics have been putting pressure on the Department to change the content of the site while others, including the state’s four Catholic Bishops, have been focusing on getting Governor Deval Patrick to cut funding for it all together.

Today I spoke to Sophie Godley, a clinical assistant professor in the Community Health Sciences Department at Boston University’s School of Public Health, to get her take on the controversy.  Sophie formerly served as the Deputy Director of AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts and was responsible for creating and launching Maria Talks in 2007. 

RHRC: What was the impetus for creating the site?

Godley: It actually started as a way to provide information about emergency contraception (EC).  We knew from some of the data collected at the state level that there was a real lack of knowledge about the existence of EC.  So, we went out and did focus groups in key high risk communities (communities with high STIs, low high school graduation, and high teen birth rates).  When we talked to these young people, we found out very quickly that if we hung out a shingle that said “learn about emergency contraception” they would not access the site.  They reported that they didn’t like the term emergency contraception (they found it alarming).  

More importantly, however, they had much more fundamental questions: How do I say no to someone who is pressuring me?  How do I know if I’m ready to have sex?  Who can I talk to about these issues?  We also heard again and again that what these young people sought most of all was a trusted person they could talk to—someone like an older sister.  Hence, Maria was born.

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The Newsweek Article: Reflections by a Young Prochoice Activist

7:23 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Elise Higgins for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

My name is Elise, and I’m a pro-choice activist from Kansas. I have never-ending gratitude for those who have devoted their lives to reproductive rights. At the same time, I have some serious problems with comments made that disparage my generation’s involvement in the pro-choice movement.

For the last four years I’ve grown as an activist, surrounded myself with other activists and helped to train new activists at my school. I’ve pretty much devoted my college career to making a ruckus for reproductive justice. So imagine my surprise when I read Newsweek’s piece “Remember Roe! How can the next generation defend abortion rights when they don’t think abortion rights need defending?”

My peers and I are full-time feminists. We’re planting pro-choice gardens at the University of Northern Kentucky and throwing Sextivals at the University of Kansas. We’re working with organizations like Choice USA that lift up the voices of young people. We’re volunteering for local, statewide and national organizations. And we’re blowing up the Internet with the tools and information to create change. There are thousands of us working hard for the movement every day. How disappointing to find that those in positions that we will surely take someday doubt our passion.

We are more passionate than you can imagine. We know that the right to an abortion alone is meaningless without contraception, sex education and freedom from sexual assault and domestic violence. We’re expanding our understanding of “choice” and talking about all the ways that race, gender identity, class and sexual orientation impact reproduction, AND we’re doing it all while performing underpaid or unpaid labor that sustains giant, national pro-choice organizations.

Some say that millennials don’t view abortion as imperiled or in need of defense. I beg to differ with this massive generalization. Do I think we need to be defensive about our abortion rights? No. I think we need to launch some offense. From the Hyde Amendment to the Nelson Amendment, universal rights to safe abortions have eroded since Roe, and no one knows that better than young people. We are on the front lines; we’re victims of policies that marginalize poor people, queer people, people of color and people with disabilities. We’re more than aware that abortion rights are imperiled. We live that reality every day.

Meanwhile, about the moral complexity some claim that advocates haven’t quite grasped: I have never heard a pro-choice activist tell me that the decision to make an abortion is an easy one. In fact, from the beginning of my involvement in the pro-choice movement, great pains have been taken to demonstrate to me what a complex, difficult decision abortion is. I have been inside a clinic and heard the stories of women who have chosen abortion. Those experiences have only solidified my conviction that we must listen to Dr. Tiller’s words: Trust Women. No one understands the complexity of a reproductive decision better than the person making it.

One of my favorite things about the feminist movement in general and the pro-choice movement in particular is our tendency toward self-reflection. Self-reflection is only effective, though, when you listen to dissenting voices and not just your own. So take heed: Youth are advocating for choice, and the pro-choice movement must do better by us. Leaders in the movement need to acknowledge our contributions, and work to make us the movement’s next leaders.

Adulthood and the Right to Make Our Own Choices

6:55 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Anat Shenker-Osorio for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Healthy disregard for my lack of skill with a queue kept me out of San Juancito’s pool hall during my first year in the Peace Corps in Honduras. That and the insistence by the villagers that women weren’t allowed. But then another American, one with thoroughly feminist notions about why she absolutely would enter that pool hall, came to town.

Our attempt to play billiards prompted not just displeasure but hostility from the owner. His shaking hands — part fury part local made jet-fuel — gestured to a sign above the door: “Se Prohibe la Entrada a Menores de Edad” (Entry to Minors Prohibited.) Worldly 22- and 26-year olds, respectively, we pointed out that this sign didn’t bar us. But he insisted, for women the sign would always apply.

I can’t say I was exactly eager to become a regular — habit, testosterone and crappy plumbing meant the players pee into a trough at the back of the room. But the implication that as a woman I hadn’t reached — nor indeed could ever claim — adulthood pissed me off. Perhaps you’re thinking…well, that was Honduras — a less developed country without benefit of our enlightened feminist ideals.

But think now about whose right to decide is constantly questioned and tested and proscribed. I’ll give you a hint — it’s not about heterosexual men.

Among the hallmarks of adulthood is the right to make decisions — even colossaly stupid, spectacularly unsuccessful ones. Those around you may beg you not to marry that tax evader or to put on some sunscreen or to stop living on celery — but for better or worse if you’re an adult they can’t actually make you do or desist from what you deem right. It is not, as some opponents of abortion rights claim, the relative merits of a particular decision that grant the freedom to make it. The idea that because some people are troubled after termination is grounds for outlawing abortion makes just as much sense as prohibiting marriage. Our divorce rate attests to how often it’s a much-regretted and very bad choice.

One marker of adulthood is the right to make your own bed and the expectation that you’ll lay in it. This separates the capable from the immature. We’ve staked these rites of passage to particular ages, 16, 18, 21 or 25 — depending on what abilities are at stake. This obvious confusion about what counts as mature notwithstanding — the more troubling reality is that certain groups in our society just never get to be considered adult.

When Justice Roberts argues that women can’t possibly know what they want when they contemplate ending a pregnancy, we’re hearing a sober version of the logic that kept me from out of the pool hall. If women cannot be trusted to know what they want and act on that knowledge, then in effect we are saying they aren’t adults. Women aren’t the only ones whose right to make their own decisions is subject to outside approval. Gays and lesbians in almost all states are prohibited from selecting who to wed.

In a society where marriages are not arranged, selecting a spouse is the prototypical decision of adulthood. It’s no accident that our society fixates so much about weddings — this is a shared social ritual that marks us as grown up. Girls are taught to fantasize and hasten the arrival of this event; it’s a time they are granted some public recognition as adults. Boys, on the other hand, will grow into men whose ability and right to be considered mature is never in question. They don’t need any extra status and thus have no reason to long for their day as a groom.

Dr. Ilan Meyer, during the trial to restore marriage equality in California, spoke about the role marriage plays in our common notions of the desirable rites of adulthood: “We all grow up and are raised to think that there are certain things we want to achieve in life…It is I think quite clear that the young children do not aspire to be domestic partners. But certainly the word marriage is something people aspire to…a common socially approved goal for children as they think about their future and for people as they develop relationship. It’s a desirable and respectable goal.”

So what does it mean when a group is systematically denied the right to pick who they want to marry? Or another group whose desire to decide what happens to their bodies is questioned and constantly curtailed? At some level, even if only unconsciously, it means we think they aren’t adults. The great irony of this is that it’s only in making decisions and living with the consequences that we can both become and demonstrate we are more mature. What we deny outright to gays and lesbians and attempt to diminish for women is not just the mantle of adult but the opportunities to become worthy of this designation.