Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Talking 'Bout My Generation

The conventional wisdom in the pro-choice movement says that women born after Roe v. Wade take abortion rights for granted - that we're not as pro-choice as our mothers are because we don't remember the struggle. For example, take this lecture by Ruth Rosen, originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle:
THIS IS AN open plea to young women. I know you think abortion rights have been won. I know you take for granted the right to choose when and whether to bear a child. But now those reproductive rights are under attack and it's your turn to carry the torch. It's time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. It's time to organize and march in the streets.

I also understand why you feel complacent...But such complacency is terribly shortsighted.
Amy Richards, of the Third Wave Foundation, doesn't have much patience for this kind of hectoring condescension. In her "Ask Amy" column, she writes:
[I]f you ask most "second wavers" -- not all -- about young women -- they will say something to the effect of "they take their rights for granted, they don't realize that choice is in jeapordy."

This has never been my experience, since I interact with younger women daily who are doing this work, so when I hear this accusation, I immediately point to these examples and I get some version of "they are the exception," but they aren't.
So who's closer to the truth, Rosen or Richards? According to a recent Gallup poll, women aged 18-29 - all of them born after Roe - are more likely to call themselves "pro-choice" than any other demographic group in the country. 54% of them say they're pro-choice, compared to 51% of women aged 30-49 and 44% of women aged 50-64. Newsweek notes a UCLA poll finding that 55% of first-year college students support abortion rights, down from 64% in 1993. That's definitely alarming, but in combination with the Gallup poll it's hard to single it out as a specific failing of young women.

The Gallup report is worth reading in full, because - in contrast to the polarized news coverage of the abortion issue - it depicts an American people who are groping for nuance. For example: Only 40% of polled Americans say that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, and yet 60% say that abortion laws should stay the same or be liberalized further. Only 48% identify as pro-choice, and yet Ruy Teixeira cites other Gallup polls showing that 66% think abortion should be legal in the first trimester, and that only 30% think that Roe v. Wade was bad for the country. That discrepancy suggests to me that - like "feminist" and "liberal" - "pro-choice" has become a term largely defined by its detractors. I don't know how to keep that from happening - suggestions?