The next generation of Planned Parenthood leaders who gathered on Wednesday evening in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade provides a snapshot of exactly the direction the organization is aiming.
The hundred or so young people who filled the room were a diverse bunch in all senses of the word - black, white, Latino, gay, straight, documented, undocumented. And that’s exactly what Cecile Richards, the head of the organization, likes to see.
Richards told the crowd that the slew of recent abortion restrictions were “horrific assaults” not just against women, but against the LGBT and immigrant communities as well.
That Richards mentioned the LGBT and immigrant communities is no mistake. Planned Parenthood has made a concerted effort to be inclusive of everyone and to promote diversity. They say that’s because it’s the right thing to do, but the inclusion is also a way to mobilize and energize young people who have always had access to abortions and who aren’t necessarily spurred to action simply by what can seem like distant threats to that right.
So Planned Parenthood has worked at marketing itself to young people not only as a place for abortion and birth control, but a place of safety and of inclusion. The youngest Planned Parenthood advocates turn out to fight not only for the right to an abortion, but the right for care for LGBT and undocumented people, as well.
Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, a young activist who spoke at Wednesday’s event, is a self-identified queer DREAMer who said he came out at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Miami Beach and that it was the first time he’d felt comfortable enough to have that conversation.
Dakota David, a pro-choice American University student who staged a counter protest at Wednesday’s March for Life with about 20 other students, might have summed up the organization’s outreach strategy best when she said that “queer justice” and “reproductive justice” are “not mutually exclusive.”
Richards has made a point of calling for immigration reform and equal rights for the LGBT community. But she’s making sure to pair that message with a reminder that the right to an abortion secured by Roe v. Wade is under threat and that it is up to young people to keep up the fight.
This generation’s fight for abortion rights will have to include a fight for marriage equality and a fight for immigrant rights in order for young people to feel that it’s a battle worth fighting and that the debate is relevant.
The inclusion is something pro-choice advocates say abortion opponents haven’t mastered. They frequently point out that people enacting abortion laws around the country are mostly older white men.
And they have a point. Most young people believe, at least to some degree, in the right to an abortion. And many of the recently enacted restrictions have been introduced and touted by men. But opponents also rightly point out that there’s been an uptick in the number of young people who have reservations about abortion.
Bethany Goodman, the 28-year-old assistant director of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, says the idea that abortion opponents are an older, homogeneous group is “wrong.”
She said that many of the thousands of people who attended Wednesday's march were young and even said the abortion opposition movement is a “youth movement.”
Goodman pointed to polls that show a majority of young people identifying as pro-life. Planned Parenthood similarly points to polls that show a majority of young people believe in the right to an abortion. The reality is that many young people feel abortion should be legal in some instances, but not all. There’s a wide variety of ground in the middle where both opponents and proponents of abortion are claiming victory.
Goodman is also right in noting the slight increase in the number of young people who oppose abortion.
Part of the increase has to do with an expanded outreach program and a conscious effort to be where young people are, specifically online, she said.
“We have a much expanded social media presence,” Goodman said, that receives “tons of interaction from young people.”
There have also been text-messaging campaigns targeted at young people, and what Goodman called campaigns in the “education realm” aimed at young people. The organization is also in the process of starting a 501(c)(4) to encourage people to elect lawmakers who oppose abortion.
While many young people who oppose abortion come from a faith-based background, Goodman included, she said it’s “backed up by science.” By that, Goodman said she means the improvement in technology.
“I believe all of the advances in technology and medicine clearly show that an unborn child is a distinct human individual, a distinct set of DNA, not just a lump of cells,” she said, referencing the detailed ultrasound pictures her friends now post on Facebook.
She also thinks young people who are opposed to abortion see it as a “human rights issue,” she said, adding that she thinks reports of gendercide in places like China have fueled outrage among young opponents of abortion.
Goodman added that abortion “is becoming more cultural.” There are movies and shows about young women “choosing life,” she said, which has contributed to the idea that a pro-life stance is acceptable for young people.
“Culturally, we’re starting to see people speaking out,” she said.
Richards is urging pro-choice young people to speak out, too. She blamed the renewed push from abortion opponents on nearly a decade of “bad” judicial confirmations and the 2010 elections, which swept many anti-abortion Tea Party candidates into office.
But she thinks the opposition can be fuel for young people. Richards told Fusion she thinks the recent passage of abortion restrictions is “highly motivating” for young people.
“You are the post-Roe generation,” she told the young crowd on Wednesday. “Are we going backward or not? This is your fight now.”
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.