Conservatives are executing a coordinated campaign to undercut millennials’ and Generation Z’s autonomy. Conservatives feel entitled to ownership over our decisions, and the headline-making abortion bans and state-level attacks on voting rights are two egregious and connected examples.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to block Texas SB 8 set off alarm bells across the country, as the law bans abortion in the state after around six weeks of pregnancy, well before many people even know they are pregnant. After the ban was in full effect for over a month, a federal court temporarily blocked enforcement of it, but it’s now back in effect after an appeals court on Friday issued an administrative stay on the block.
The fight is far from over.
Meanwhile, in states across the country, politicians continue to put in place barriers to voting that will prevent people from casting a ballot. In some cases, the same politicians are writing both bills. For instance in Texas, state Sen. Bryan Hughes authored both SB 8 and a deeply restrictive anti-voter bill, SB 1, which dramatically reduces the number of ways voters can cast a ballot and particularly limits the use of vote-by-mail.
There’s a reason that the same politicians who want to take away reproductive rights also want to make it harder to vote: These power grabs are connected. Winning the fight to protect voting rights will pay dividends in protecting the rest of our rights, including our right to an abortion.
In 2021, most women of childbearing age, defined by the World Health Organization as between the ages of 15 to 49, are millennials or members of Generation Z. As such, our generations—which are also the most diverse generations in U.S. history—are uniquely impacted by abortion bans like the one that is now in place in Texas. Laws like SB 8 did not come into existence by happenstance. They are part of a coordinated campaign that’s been waged against Roe v. Wade since it was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973.
In just the first half of 2020, 561 abortion restrictions, including 165 abortion bans, have been introduced across 47 states—and, as of October, 106 restrictions, including 12 bans, have been enacted. Although Roe v. Wade remains the legal precedent, preventing some of the harsher bans from going into effect, 11 states have passed so-called trigger laws that would impose statewide abortion bans immediately should Roe v. Wade be overturned. These abortion bans deny all people, particularly young people who can become pregnant, reproductive justice, a term coined by Black women in the 1990s that refers to the right that all people have to choose if, when, and how to have children, and to parent the children they have in healthy and safe environments. Young Black and brown people in particular suffer when reproductive justice is denied, in part because of the over-policing of their lives and bodies.
Perhaps, then, it should not be surprising that abortion restrictions and bans remain deeply unpopular with U.S. voters—and particularly unpopular with young people. A recent NBC poll found that 54 percent of the country, and 65 percent of people between the ages of 18 to 34, believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
The politicians who are advocating for control over young people’s bodies know that the ideas and policies they put forward, including ones that restrict access to abortion, are ones that our generations largely oppose. For this reason, these same politicians have committed themselves to another power grab: denying people, particularly young Black and brown people, the right to vote and participate in democracy.
After young people turned out in historic numbers in the 2020 election to fight for the issues we believe in, 49 states introduced over 425 bills restricting voting access by cutting vote-by-mail and early voting, imposing arbitrary deadlines and conditions on voter registration, and expanding the use of voter roll purges.
In addition to disproportionately impacting rural voters and communities of color, these voter suppression tactics target young people, who are more likely to move between elections and thus need to register and reregister to vote in greater regularity across different states with different rules, and whose jobs can make voting during a restricted period on Election Day more difficult.
Our democracy works better when we all can participate in it and elect leaders who share our values. In order to prevent these power grabs from continuing to erode our rights, we need to demand that Congress treat anti-voter laws and anti-abortion legislation as the inextricably linked issues that they are. One way they can do this is by passing comprehensive federal pro-voter legislation, like the recently introduced Freedom to Vote Act, which would protect voting rights, prohibit partisan gerrymandering, and reduce the influence of dark money in politics. Congress must also pass federal legislation to protect abortion access, such as the Women’s Health Protection Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in September.
Right now, both bills are unlikely to pass the Senate without reforms to the filibuster, but our rights are too critical to let a procedural rule stand in the way of progress: Congress must do what it takes to protect them. Our generations’ freedom is at stake.