Sisterhood Blog

An Intergenerational Battle Over Abortion

By Sarah Seltzer

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As we anticipate the possible Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan — she is Jewish, pro-choice and said to be on Obama’s short-list — pro-choice activists are preparing themselves for a tough, abortion-focused confirmation process, no matter who is nominated.

Meanwhile, a recent Newsweek article has generated heated online debate, by positing that there’s an “intensity gap” between young women in favor of abortion rights and their elders, whose activism was forged during the pre-Roe era. Not only that, but young pro-choicers are far less motivated than their anti-abortion counterparts, according to new data from NARAL Pro-Choice America. The NARAL survey of young people found that ” the millennials surveyed didn’t view abortion as an imperiled right in need of defenders. “

For young self-identified feminists, the reaction to the article was “not again.” For years, young feminists have taken to blogs to write about feeling ignored, counted out or lumped in with the apathetic masses by their elders.

Salon’s Rebecca Traister described sitting next to a devoted, 22-year-old activist at a NARAL meeting after a similarly veined castigation:

This young woman looked like she wanted to bang her head against the table, not with the embarrassment she was apparently supposed to feel on behalf of her own wifty generation, but with fury at how invisible she and her peers were to the organization she had given up her day to volunteer for.

Ultimately, neither NARAL’s official hand-wringing nor the upset, younger women who object to the said hand-wringing are entirely wrong. While there is a flourishing movement of young women who are well aware that those rights have been siphoned away by restrictions, many of the young women who are uninvolved with this fight may not be aware of said siphoning.

Another aspect to this data that a wise feminist pointed out to me is that NARAL surveyed young people, including men. It’s no surprise that young men who genuinely believe it’s none of their business what women do with their pregnancies might not be running around waving banners for the cause (while conversely, young men in the other camp who do want to exert influence on women might be more willing to be anti-abortion activists).

The trick is for older activists to acknowledge the role their younger counterparts can play in reducing apathy and reaching out to their age and peer group. The success of Feministing.com and its ilk prove that there is a potential, growing audience of young women for this stuff. If the institutional and political heft of the big organizations could harness the enthusiasm and savvy of younger activists, instead of pretending everyone under 30 doesn’t care, we might be able to make some inroads into the vast middle who think abortion should be legal, but don’t much care one way or another.


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