If abortion rights disappear, it’s the millennials who will be most affected. Some of them are worried. Many of them are unaware and unconcerned — but more of them are beginning to take up the fight for reproductive justice. Or, at the least, beginning to pay attention.
I got my first anecdotal glimpse of how the issue is playing out when I spoke to a class at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA recently. It was, by and large, heartening. The students listened attentively to my own story of an illegal abortion that took place when their grandmothers were young. Most were somber or nodded in sympathy; one young woman put both hands to her cheeks, partially covering her eyes and shaking her head as if in disbelief. I read that with encouragement: maybe if more of the millennials realize how dangerous those pre-1973 days were for women they will help prevent a return.
The several young men in the class turned out to be the most vocal in support of abortion rights. I asked one of them why. “Because I don’t believe anyone should tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her own body,” he said. He knew several women of his generation who have had abortions, and he believed it was nobody’s business but their own.
Then I asked if anyone in the class — which did seem generally supportive of abortion rights — felt differently. “It’s okay,” I said. “I’m not being judgmental or argumentative; everyone’s got a right to his or her own opinion. I’d just like to hear from anyone who does not believe abortion should ever be permitted.” One courageous young woman raised her hand.
“I know three people who have had abortions,” she said in response to my request for explanation. “Two of them later had regrets, and it has ruined their lives.” And on that basis she feels no one should be allowed to have an abortion? “Yes.”
It would be ridiculous to draw any conclusions from one brief encounter with several dozen bright millennials, but I have some theories. One is that the anti-abortion spokeswoman, in addition to knowing several women “whose lives are ruined,” is rooted in a religious community that reinforces this view. It’s the stance of the religious and political right that abortion is murder — and if you’re in such a community and have an abortion you would undoubtedly feel ruined afterward. Forever? I hope not.
A second theory is that the articulate young man has been around a lot of people who encouraged him to ask questions and think things through. While the young woman was not anxious to elaborate on her views, he seemed perfectly ready to defend his.
My hopes are on the millennials who are thinking things through.