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Beyond Single-Issue Politics on the 41st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade: Young Reproductive Rights Activists Are Social Justice Activists

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I have the privilege of leading Planned Parenthood's national youth and campus engagement programs -- The Planned Parenthood Generation and Planned Parenthood Generation Action -- and there is one thing that I know to be true: This is not just our mama's reproductive rights movement. Today, on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we face unprecedented attacks on women's access to reproductive health care. It is more important than ever before to make sure we continue to have the right to safe and legal abortion, but the landscape has fundamentally changed and my generation is already fighting back.

We see reproductive rights from a multifaceted lens --- we understand that fighting for reproductive rights is about economic justice, about education access, about immigrant rights, and so much more. From our point of view, of course women have the right to legal and safe abortion! After all, when women can decide if and when to become a parent, everyone -- all people, all families, and all communities -- will benefit. We also know that it is not a coincidence that the same politicians and organizations restricting women's access to reproductive health care are also attacking voting rights, workers rights, and marriage equality.

Understanding and living the fight for reproductive rights within a larger context of multiple issues is the experience of this rising generation. This was clear to me several years ago when the Planned Parenthood Youth Squad led a series of training sessions on community organizing skills for a thousand college-age leaders. These sessions were part of Planned Parenthood's youth and campus engagement programs, now launched as Planned Parenthood Generation Action, already on more than 200 campuses throughout the country.

One of the first things we did was bring these leaders together to talk about what motivated them to turn to Planned Parenthood specifically for their social justice activism. One woman from Texas responded by speaking about her struggles as an undocumented youth who, even at a young age, fought to keep her family together. She is passionate about reproductive rights because she believes everyone should have the ability to define and protect her family. Another young leader from Colorado, who is transgender, revealed that she had wanted to take her own life because she had thought that suicide was the only way to assert power and control over her circumstances. When she discovered reproductive rights activism, she finally felt at home: here was a movement that gives voice to people's lived experiences and offers opportunities to be powerful in a community of leaders. This movement is giving life to our communities.

The rising generation of reproductive rights activists approach politics from an "intersectional" perspective: Just as traffic flows through an intersection, with cars traveling from multiple directions, "intersectional" politics take into consideration all the identities and experiences that inform us as people in this culture. We look at the big picture, we show up as whole people.

We've come of age in a post-Roe world. Our task is not only to look back and remember that we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Our responsibility is to move the work forward and create a new vision for reproductive freedom. This fight remains an essential part of our work. Just like the women who came before us who experienced having a lack of power over their own bodies, the majority of young Americans oppose efforts to overturn Roe. Sixty percent of us believe abortion should be available in all or most cases (a figure that's similar to that of Americans of older generations), and 68 percent believe it should be available in their own community (while only 60 percent of boomers and 42 percent of seniors agree).

What we're hearing from our campus groups and youth organizers across the country is that young people are sick and tired of the attacks on women's access to safe and legal abortion that women and their families have experienced over the last several years. Since 2011, more than 200 restrictions on abortion access have become law in 39 states -- and more than 70 of these restrictions passed in 2013 alone. That means, that more than once a week, last year legislators were coming for us -- personally attacking our community. As a result, more than half of American women of reproductive age now live in states where access to abortion is obstructed.

Surveying this frightening landscape, young, savvy activists are energizing the reproductive rights movement. Over the last three years, Planned Parenthood has gained more than 2 million new supporters, nearly 40 percent of whom are under the age of 35. Our activism led to decisive defeats of the Albuquerque 20-week abortion ban and through the work of Planned Parenthood Votes and other Planned Parenthood advocacy organizations, to the defeat of extremist Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia gubernatorial race based largely on his opposition to women's access to safe and legal abortion. And of course, we packed the Texas state capitol in support of Texas State Senator Wendy Davis while she held her ground in the historic 11-hour marathon filibuster to run out the clock on an extreme and dangerous anti-women's health bill.

This fight isn't about being "pro-choice" or "pro-life." Those outdated labels don't come close to defining who we are or the complexity of this issue. Instead of talking about what divides us, let's talk about what the majority of us agree on: that women's health care decisions should be left to a woman and her doctor. And let's talk about how most women live it: in connection to other inequities that must also be addressed.