It’s been 47 years since the Supreme Court issued its landmark abortion ruling in Roe v. Wade, making abortion legal across the United States. But reproductive rights are under attack again — and NARAL President Ilyse Hogue is taking cues from young activists on the next front of the fight for reproductive rights. "The whole idea of reproductive freedom and abortion access — as central to a conversation about how do we create gender equity — came from young people," she tells Elite Daily. The latest phase of reproductive rights, she says, is something like the passing of a generational trust. "Justice is a journey, it’s not a destination."
That inspiration from young activists is part of what’s behind NARAL Pro-Choice America’s new tagline, "Freedom is for every body," which officially launches today, Jan. 22, 2020 — on the 47th anniversary of the Roe decision. "[The] tagline embodies and crystallizes this moment in history for us and why we fight so hard to do what we do," Hogue says.
The reproductive rights landscape has changed significantly in the five decades since NARAL’s founding in 1969. According to Hogue, the new tagline is rooted in reproductive rights advocates’ efforts to embrace the plurality of experiences people have when it comes to reproductive health care. "Our conversation has rightly focused on the fact that when it comes to reproductive oppression or reproductive freedom, it affects a lot of different people — anyone who can get pregnant, trans people, non-binary people, people who need to access reproductive services," Hogue says. "We just want to acknowledge that sort of reality in how we think and talk about the issue."
Hogue points out that this shift to make the reproductive justice movement more inclusive largely started with young people. Long before President Donald Trump won the 2016 election on an anti-abortion platform, young people were challenging the gender binary and demanding social change. "Those movements are the continuation of the idea that people should be free to live on their own terms and afforded dignity as human beings. That was led by young people," she says. And young activists continue to lead the fight.
Hogue rightly notes that the political stakes of reproductive rights are even higher for young people. "Young people, and teens specifically, are actually the ones who will inherit the legacy of what happens in the next year," Hogue says. "This election will decide how [young people have] control and freedom over that, or whether politicians will. They will live with the impact of this election on so many issues that I know they care about, but this one is central for generations to come."
Between federal funding cuts, Supreme Court cases, and the upcoming elections in November, there’s a lot at stake for reproductive freedom. In 2019, funding cuts to the federal family planning program Title X led to severe funding losses for Planned Parenthood, Public Health Solutions, and nearly 900 other family planning clinics — a move that hit the low-income people the program was intended to help particularly hard. The year also saw numerous de facto state bans on abortion, and some of these laws even included provisions that could potentially prevent insurance coverage for birth control and IUDs.
There’s more to come. In March 2020, the Supreme Court is expected to hear its first major abortion case — June Medical Services v. Gee — since the court took on a conservative bent following the appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. This case challenges a Louisiana law that bars doctors from providing abortion services unless they have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. On Jan. 2, more than 200 Republicans in Congress filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to use this case as a justification for overturning Roe v. Wade — an outcome that reproductive rights advocates are working hard to prevent. In the brief, Republican lawmakers cited the "need for the Court to take up the issue of whether Roe and [abortion rights case] Casey should be reconsidered and, if appropriate, overruled."
The Supreme Court also announced on Jan. 17 it would hear two cases — Trump v. Pennsylvania and Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania — that could potentially allow employers to deny birth control coverage to employees on religious grounds. With critical reproductive health care services on the line, Hogue urges reproductive justice advocates to avoid making concessions on abortion. "We should totally dispel the idea that, ‘Oh, if we just make some kind of concession with [anti-abortion opponents] on abortion, then we can all come together and support contraception," Hogue says "You don’t give just a little bit on freedom — you draw a line in the sand on freedom."
Youth activists are certainly aware of what’s at stake in the months and years to come. Across the country, young people are fighting for abortion access on college campuses, demanding widespread menstrual product access, and advocating for a Hyde Amendment repeal — and that’s just the beginning. Young people, low-income people, and people of color have historically led the fight for reproductive justice, and they continue to do so in 2020. "One of the things that young people can focus on is that these are not separate fights," says Hogue. "Even when we think about things like voter suppression and reproductive freedom [as distinct issues], they often go hand in hand."
With so much on the line for reproductive freedom, NARAL is using its new tagline to highlight what freedom really means — it’s also no accident that the new, inclusive tagline is coming out now. "Our effort is how to get our culture to recognize that freedom needs to be afforded to everyone, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of race, regardless of gender identity, and regardless of reproductive status," Hogue says. "When we actually accept that as a culture and we normalize it, [then] we are going to be able to then show that through law, through policy."
As organizations like NARAL continue challenging oppressive laws and fighting for reproductive health care access, Hogue encourages young people to get involved on every level of the ballot — especially because so many of these policies will specifically affect them. Hogue also reminds young people to speak up, or opponents to reproductive freedom could win this fight.
"Don’t ask permission," Hogue advises. "Join a team. Figure out what feels right for you. Live your values. Never apologize for who you are and what you are, and recognize that our voices matter and therefore if they’re absent, the other side wins."
Everyone, she says, should feel empowered to speak up. "[Our voices] should be central and prominent in the halls of Congress, in our statehouses, in our elections, in town halls with candidates," she says. "Because when people opt out, then we all lose."
She adds, "Everything is on the line in 2020" — and the fight begins with reproductive freedom.
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