The Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade last Friday upended decades of federal abortion protections, returning the legality of the procedure back to the states. For Generation Z, an age group squarely in their formative years, the decision has forced many to reimagine life without what was previously deemed a constitutional right.
“[Five] unelected judges are sending us back to an era when a fetus had more rights than the human carrying the pregnancy,” Gen-Z for Change, a nonprofit organization that advocates for and is led by Gen Z-ers, said in a statement. “To be clear, this Supreme Court does not represent Gen Z or the future we imagine for our country. We are entering an era where our parents had more reproductive rights than us, and where our grandparents recount stories about a time when abortions didn’t stop but were far more dangerous.”
In a 5-4 vote, justices ruled in a Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that the Constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the largest age groups of patients who had abortions in the U.S. was women ages 20 to 24, at a rate of 19 abortions per 1,000 women. This group encompasses Generation Z, defined as individuals who were born between 1997 and 2012.
For many Gen Z-ers, who, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, are more racially and ethnically diverse than any generation in the past and are overwhelmingly progressive, the decision does not align with their views. The center reported that 74% of people ages 18 to 29 say abortion should be legal. About 44% say it should be legal with some exceptions, and 30% say it should be legal in all cases.
“Young people will be among the groups most heavily impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision. It is difficult for minors to travel out of state, and this ruling will only compound the barriers to accessing abortion that already existed,” Lauren Frazier, the director of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood Southeast, told Yahoo News in a statement.
The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion-rights research organization, says 26 states are likely to ban or restrict access to abortion as a result of the court’s decision. So-called trigger laws, which take effect with the repeal of Roe, are in place in at least 13 states. As a result, many abortion clinics like Planned Parenthood, the largest nonprofit organization in the U.S. that provides reproductive health care, no longer perform the procedure in those states.
“No abortion restrictions, even the ones pre-Roe, stopped people from seeking abortion care. The Supreme Court’s ruling has just launched our nation into chaos and placed even more pressure on a health care system that was already buckling,” Frazier said. “It’s like we’re living in a tale of two Americas: one where those with wealth and power have quick, convenient access to contraceptives and safe, early abortion, while those without means are forced to flee their state, remain pregnant, or seek support outside of the health care system.”
According to a 2021 study — published in the research journal Demography — that focused on the effect of a total abortion ban on pregnancy-related mortality, banning abortion across the nation would lead to a 21% increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths for all women and a 33% increase among Black women. So, for about 1 in 5 people who lose abortion access, the matter is a clear and present danger.
Young adults have expressed concern over losing abortion access while dealing with existing societal issues, such as a flawed health care system and, more recently, an infant formula shortage.
“We don’t have universal health care, the foster care system is not a good place for children, there is a formula shortage and the list goes on,” Azaria Mosby, a 19-year-old college student from Petersburg, Va., told Yahoo News. “Overturning Roe v. Wade is doing absolutely nothing to improve the country and definitely [isn’t] doing anything to help poor families and people of color. And what about sexual abuse victims? Women already struggle to get the justice they deserve because society loves to victim-blame and give rapists a slap on the wrist. So, now these women have to live with trauma and a baby linked to it. How do you think that will turn out for the child?”
According to a recent Cosmopolitan/YouGov survey, about 1 in 6 Gen-Z members says they intend to get their tubes tied or have a vasectomy as a result of the ruling. About 1 in 10 says they will forgo penetrative sex.
“Women are having a harder time keeping up. We have to carry the fear of bringing life into the world and not being able to care for [the baby] properly,” Shellise Montgomery, a 19-year-old college student from Seattle told Yahoo News.
Abortion access was under threat long before the high court’s ruling, and the next generation seems poised to tackle issues that could arise in a post-Roe world. Young people have mobilized in a number of ways, showing up in droves outside federal buildings across the country to demand action from lawmakers, sharing ways on social media to circumvent the laws in their states so that people can access abortion, as well as donating money to causes and individuals seeking support.
“I believe that Gen Z feels the weight of this moment and they are becoming galvanized over abortion access at a grassroots level,” Frazier said. “They know that this work to protect our reproductive freedoms must start in our communities. We simply cannot rely on the courts to protect our rights.”
Rachel O’Leary Carmona, the executive director of Women’s March, who is leading a march for action in Washington, D.C., on July 9, says it’s hard for justices or the federal government to ignore millions of people out in the streets, and that what is happening as a response to the Supreme Court decision is just the tip of the iceberg.
“There are folks that are helping people move across state lines. Those folks are both involved with Planned Parenthood networks and not, and some of them are involved in the networks of independent providers. Many of them or some of them are owned by women of color, many of them owned by women. And so there’s a big effort for those abortion funds to be able to fund and coordinate travel and make sure that folks can safely access those needed resources.”
For many young anti-abortion advocates, the Roe reversal is an achievement that activists of all ages have been working toward for decades. After the ruling, anti-abortion Gen Z-ers flooded state capitols to celebrate the end of what they say is an “egregiously wrong Roe decision,” with one advocate calling June 24 the “best day” of her life.
“I was crying tears of joy when I found out,” Lydia Taylor, of the Students for Life group, told the Associated Press outside the Supreme Court the day the decision was handed down. “There’s now hope for the women and children who have been hurt and killed by abortion. I’ve been working and praying for like five years for this day. We still have a ton of work to do to get all the states to ban abortion. But this is a huge step. And just recognizing the value of preborn children and mothers to be able to support their children ... we’re fighting for life.”
The movement is also pursuing the beginning of an “even more concentrated pro-life effort” at the state level. The effects of that mobilization could potentially be seen later this year, when voters cast their ballots in November’s midterm elections.
According to a poll taken in early January and reported by Students for Life of America’s Demetree Institute for Pro-Life Advancement, 80% of millennials and Gen Z-ers want to vote on abortion policy, which is an increase from 66% in 2021. About 3 out of 4 want limits on abortion, and 40% want either no abortion or abortion only for the traditional exceptions — in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.
But with some Gen Z-ers not old enough to vote on the issue, the future of their reproductive rights is left in the hands of people who may not share their current life experiences. Some say they feel the weight of the previous generation’s choices in the matter.
“The older generation says it’s on Gen Z to be the generation of change, but we shouldn’t have had to be put in that position in the first place,” Catherine D., a 19-year-old college student, told Insider. “Why is it on us to change something that should have been fixed 20-plus years ago?”