Young People Divided Over Birth Control Access

Emily DeRuy and Geneva Sands

Virtually every sexually experienced woman between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States has used some form of contraception. But birth control has become a particularly polarizing topic for young people.

As a late March snowstorm swirled through the capital, hundreds of people under age 35 jockeyed for position on the Supreme Court’s marble steps as the justices prepared to hear arguments in the Hobby Lobby case.


At the center of the case is this question:

Can a business (Hobby Lobby) oppose on religious grounds a provision of Obamacare that requires employers to offer health insurance that includes birth control?

While the answer to that question remains unclear, one thing is certain: Young people have opinions. And they are anything but uniform.

“I think this is a really exciting time to be active in politics,” Rebecca Downs, a 23-year-old from Long Island who supports Hobby Lobby, told Fusion outside the Supreme Court Tuesday morning as people chanted and thrust signs into the air. “You have young people on both sides of the fight, but the young people are actually really pro-life now, too.”


While most young people believe, to some degree, in birth control and the right to an abortion, Downs isn’t wrong when she says more young people are pro-life. There’s been a slight uptick in people who oppose abortion. The percentage of Americans between ages 18 and 29 who think abortion should be legal in any circumstance has dropped from the mid-30s in the early 1990s to the mid-20s. Downs and other young Hobby Lobby supporters are particularly critical of Plan B, which they say acts as an abortion drug by ending life after it begins, while supporters of the “morning-after pill” say it provides emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.

Some of that uptick has to do with conservative groups like March for Life and the Family Research Council launching expanded outreach programs and doing a better job of meeting young people where they live: online.


There was no shortage of hashtags, for instance, splashed across signs supporting both sides outside the court on Tuesday.


“I think that there is a resurgence of the super, super conservative movement in the country among young people,” Kirin Gupta, a 20-year-old Advocates for Youth member and opponent of Hobby Lobby’s stance, said. “As much as we’re seeing young people come out in force for the Democratic Party, for very liberal causes, you’re seeing as much out in force for the super conservative causes and especially for the religious movement.”

Young supporters of Hobby Lobby outside the Supreme Court Tuesday said they are worried about an erosion of religious freedom.


Nathan Oppman, 28, a member of the Family Research Council who supports Hobby Lobby’s stance, told Fusion, “‘I really support religious liberty. I’m thankful that we live in a country that’s respected people’s right to practice their faith outside of the four walls of their church as well as in their places of worship.”

“If people step back and say, ‘This case is really about whether or not you can practice something you believe when you own a business,’” he added. “I think if people understood that more, it would allow them to get involved.”


But that argument doesn’t jive for Reverend Rob Keithan, 38, of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, who argues that religious liberty should apply for everyone and “not just a few.”


“I think young people are waking up,” he said, “and they’re tired of having extreme voices claiming to speak for them and claiming to speak for all people of faith, when in reality, most people…of faith support access to birth control.”

The uptick in conservative momentum has been met with nervousness from some older abortion and birth control activists who are concerned young people won’t turn out to support their cause because they take access to birth control and abortion for granted.


But Gupta says that’s not true.


“First of all, I don’t think young people take access for granted,” she said. “To get access and to get education about where you can get contraceptives is not easy,” she said.

“This is young people showing that they are responsible,” Gupta added. “I think that’s something that has to be respected by older people.”


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.

Geneva Sands is a Washington, D.C.-based producer/editor focused on national affairs and politics. Egg creams, Raleigh and pie are three of her favorite things.

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