When It Comes to Abortion, Young People Won't Settle For Just Protecting Roe v. Wade
Young women at the 2020 Women's March on Jan. 18, 2020, in New York City.
As we commemorate 47 years since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, young people like me find ourselves at a crossroads for abortion rights in this country. For decades, anti-abortion lawmakers have actively been pushing abortion care further out of reach; the broader medical community has turned its back on abortion providers; and many others have been pressured into silence about their own experiences or those of their family members, perpetuating stigma and shame.
The last decade alone has accounted for about a third of the roughly 1,200 federal- and state-level restrictions on abortion passed since the Supreme Court made abortion legal nationwide in 1973.
The reality is that the Roe decision was faulty and limited, and key Supreme Court compromises that ensued after invited these disastrous restrictions. Young people have inherited a dangerously precarious landscape for reproductive health access — but we refuse to settle or compromise on our rights.
Legal abortion, coupled with legal birth control, has had a powerful and positive impact on the health and lives of young people who have grown up in the decades since Roe v. Wade. While it's important to recognize the work that has been done, we have seen firsthand that legality does not benefit everyone equally. It hasn't ensured that all those who need an abortion are actually able to obtain one.
It's wildly empowering to see us taking change into our own hands.
Now, even the Roe decision may be at risk. This year, the Supreme Court will hear a pivotal case about abortion. The Trump administration wasted no time stacking the Supreme Court and judicial system with the most radical anti-abortion judges they can find, all of whom are bent on ending or dismantling Roe. However, these efforts to stack the courts don't exist within a Trump-inspired vacuum: they're built on decades of effort to obstruct access to abortion care.
Across the country and especially in recent years, clinics have shut down en masse due to predatory, politically motivated state laws, forcing many people seeking care to travel great distances — including across state lines — and incur high costs to access abortion care. Additionally, hundreds of other state laws have chipped away at abortion care and our decision-making options, from laws targeting young people and impeding our decisions; to laws that force patients to justify why they had an abortion; to dangerous restrictions on abortion throughout pregnancy; to mandatory waiting periods and forcing doctors to lie to their patients. These policies are meant to shame patients, make care unaffordable, and, in many cases, push it out of reach entirely.
Other laws ban insurance coverage for abortion, effectively blocking abortion accessibility for people struggling financially, who are more likely to be women of color, trans and nonbinary people, immigrants, and young people. Restricting Medicaid coverage of abortion forces one in four poor women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
All this has taken place while abortion is legal. It's clear to see that legality is not nearly enough to equal meaningful access for all of us — especially more vulnerable and underserved populations such as low-income people, women of color, immigrants, rural communities, the LGBTQ+ community, and young people.
Young people are determined to change this. Across the country, there has been active and widespread mobilization around what we want to see happen. At my own university, I've seen firsthand how young people can come together to fight for various aspects of reproductive justice, culminating in real results and actions, such as the campus-wide installation of free menstrual product dispensers in restrooms. It's wildly empowering to see us taking change into our own hands. It gives me real hope that we can also enact changes on a more macro level.
The legal right to an abortion is the floor, not the ceiling; our vision is much bigger than choice.
We understand this existential fight for our human rights has never just been about preserving legal abortion. If we settled for that, we would be fighting over crumbs of a nearly 50-year-old decision, instead of what we and our families actually need. We must vote, organize, and fight for a wider range of inclusive policy outcomes — lifting abortion coverage bans, funding clinics and community care, protecting minors' and immigrants' access to care, protecting abortion throughout pregnancy, offering paid family leave and universal child care, and more.
We're determined to forge a future that not only includes all of us, but also recognizes that reproductive justice and liberation are tied to racial justice, economic justice, immigrant justice, environmental justice, and the empowerment of our communities. The legal right to an abortion is the floor, not the ceiling; our vision is much bigger than choice. Our vision of reproductive justice ensures health care and health equity for all members of our communities, ensuring no one is left behind.
Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides in its next case on abortion, and whatever our elections bring, we can no longer make compromises as politicians chip away at our most fundamental rights. After all, we know who will have to live in this grim future if we passively accept Roe alone as enough: us.
Hannah Bae is a senior at the University of Alabama - Birmingham and part of the Our Folks: Voices of LGBTQ+ Youth of Color 2019-2020 cohort at URGE.