The announcement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement terrifies those who value people’s basic right to reproductive self-determination.
Trump’s promise to nominate potential Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade all but guarantees that reproductive inequality in this country will deepen. Young people will be most affected by these changes, but fortunately, they are also the most motivated to resist them.
As scholars of reproductive justice have shown, wealthy women have long been able to avail themselves of options inaccessible to most. When reproductive health care is made more difficult to attain, the ones who suffer are those without the resources to pay high fees and transport themselves to far away clinics. Although national adolescent pregnancy rates have been steadily declining for years now, Louisiana has the sixth highest rate of adolescent births in the nation. Those who concern themselves with this ranking must understand that adolescent pregnancy is an index of poverty — the more restrictions we place on access to sex education, contraception, and abortion, the less autonomy people at the lowest levels of our economic ladder have over their reproductive lives. Our young people seem to have this figured out.
As an educator and adviser at Tulane University, I teach courses on reproductive politics, advise one of our largest student organizations, Students United for Reproductive Justice, and coordinate a reproductive health internship program. I am blown away by these students’ energy and focus as they work to promote equitable access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care.
When student activists (studying medicine, law, social work, and public health) caught wind recently of an anti-abortion film preparing to shoot scenes at Tulane’s uptown campus, they sprang into action. In the midst of their summer coursework, internships, and other responsibilities, they penned a detailed letter to the administration to express their disappointment in the university’s complicity in the production of an overtly misleading political propaganda piece.
Student activism around reproductive rights and justice is not confined to the university campus. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students trek to Baton Rouge to advocate for statewide policy and into the New Orleans community, devoting their time to local organizations that generate strategies, resources, and services that will increase people’s bodily, sexual, and reproductive freedom. These students recognize that our nation’s systems of health care, education, welfare, taxation, labor, and criminal justice disproportionately benefit some people at the expense of others and they understand that all of those systems are implicated in the unequal distribution of reproductive self-determination.
In her analysis of the role of millennials in the “post-2008 wave of protest” around economic inequality, police violence, sexual assault, and immigrant rights, sociologist Ruth Milkman shows that this generation is animated by their understanding of intersectionality — the mutually constitutive forces of race, gender, sexuality, and class inequality. She claims that this, combined with a greater sense of economic precariousness despite their overall higher educational achievement, sets them apart from previous generations. A 2018 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute indicates that support among young people for legal abortion is growing and that this pattern is unique to their group.
In 2013, 21 percent of Tulane alumni lived in New Orleans — 29,700 people. Many current students, who have made it their mission to fight for reproductive equality, will decide to stay in Louisiana and fight. As we consider what is to come in the wake of Justice Kennedy’s retirement, we must prepare ourselves, not just for the difficulties and devastations that will face members of the millennial and postmillennial generations as a result of deepening reproductive inequality, but for their furious response to the state’s abandonment of those least able to secure their own bodily self-determination.
Clare Daniel, author of Mediating Morality: The Politics of Teen Pregnancy in the Post-Welfare Era, is an administrative assistant professor at Tulane University’s Newcomb College Institute and a member of the Scholar Strategy Network.