TV & Radio
Confronting Abortion Anew
Both sides in the fight see a test case in their struggle to recruit a generation that has come of age after 1973's Roe vs. Wade ruling.
By Alina Tugend
Special to The Los Angeles Times
July 8, 2005
NEW YORK — On the picturesque Iona College campus, a small Catholic-affiliated school in the suburb of New Rochelle, it is easy to find students ambling in the sunshine who are willing to talk about abortion.
What is not easy is pigeonholing their views.
Allyson Crespo, 21, a criminal justice major, is against abortion "100%." If people are going to have sex, "they've got to see it all the way through," she said, adding that she would not vote for a politician who favored abortion rights.
Steve Hutcheson, 22, majoring in international studies, sees the issue differently. "I think it should be up to the person — abortion should definitely be an option," he said.
Molly Heinsler, 22, a marketing major, doesn't know how she feels. "I'm too young to have my views set in stone right now," she said.
Crespo, Hutcheson, Heinsler and millions of others of their generation represent the future of the abortion debate in the United States.
They are increasingly in the spotlight in the ongoing national battle over abortion, which is likely to heat up given the polarized political climate, pending Supreme Court action and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement. For the first time in five years, the court has agreed to hear abortion-related cases. One, out of New Hampshire, centers on parental notification; the other concerns antiabortion protesters at clinics.
Not only do the abortion rights and antiabortion sides need young people to replenish their aging ranks, they view this generation as something of a test case — it has come of age after Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.
Although those who grew up during an era of legal abortions might be presumed to be strong proponents, that's not necessarily the case.
"There's a conception that today's youth is more liberal and more pro-choice. I don't think that's right," said Derrick Jones, youth outreach coordinator for the National Right to Life organization. "The youth today are the front line. They have grown up with abortion-on-demand and seen the impact of it firsthand."
Jones believes that young people have become repelled by what he calls the "culture of death," and are increasingly turning toward the antiabortion movement.
Five years ago, he said he used to get about 10 e-mails a month inquiring about setting up a teen or college antiabortion group. That number is now up to 25 to 30 a week, he said.
Those in the abortion rights camp, on the other hand, say the increasingly conservative tilt in the country is awakening young women to what they may lose.
"Young people see the issue differently than older people," said David Seldin, communications director for NARAL Pro Choice America. "There's not the motivational spirit of a generation that remembers what life was like when abortion was illegal, but the outrage toward people who are taking something away that they've always had."
Heinsler, the Iona marketing major, said that although she doesn't know where she stands on abortion, she can't envision it being available only in other countries or in back-alley clinics.
"It's like a foreign idea, that it could be taken away," she said. "It's something I can't even imagine."
According to the annual American Freshman Survey sponsored by UCLA, a slim — and becoming slimmer — majority of college freshmen believe that abortion should be legal.
Those who "agreed strongly" or "agreed somewhat" that abortion should be legal rose from 55.6% in 1977, when the question was first asked in that form, to a high of 67.2% in 1992. It gradually declined to 53.9% last year.
"Nineteen ninety-two was a banner year for students' commitment to the environment, abortion, race relations, to helping people in difficulty," said Linda J. Sax, associate professor of education at UCLA and survey director. "There's been a very steady decline in all those areas throughout the later part of the '90s."
Sax noted that unlike responses to other social issues, the survey showed no difference between men and women's attitudes toward abortion.
Abortion rights activists say the reproductive rights debate should include other controversies, including access to emergency contraception, such as the morning-after pill.
The ready availability of the morning-after pill in many parts of the country could mean that young people may be less concerned about access to abortion.
"The morning-after pill has taken a lot of pressure off," Heinsler said. And even though it is not available at Iona's health center, it is offered at a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic, she said.
For many young people, abortion also has been overshadowed by causes that seem more immediate.
"It's a very important political issue, but I think there are more important issues, like Iraq," Hutcheson said.
But national groups are eager to bring it to the forefront, and they say they have to do it in a way that captures the attention of a generation that already feels bombarded by competing messages and information.
"It's not that young people don't care, but there are so many things going on," said Crystal Lander, campus program director for the Feminist Majority Foundation. "A lot of people are vying for their attention — there's a war going on, there are other social issues, and that doesn't even include daily life. We have to find creative ways to combine issues."
The Feminist Majority, which supports abortion rights, employs seven campus organizers who work out of Rosslyn, Va., but often travel to universities in their respective territories. They help students plan events and strategies surrounding abortion and other reproductive issues. Currently, the group has affiliates on 165 campuses in 37 states. Choice USA, which also supports abortion rights, says it has about 50 campus organizations ranging from 10 to 200 members each.
Although the antiabortion movement uses similar organizing tactics, it is often more dramatic in its appeal.
The Genocide Awareness Project, part of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, based in Santa Fe Springs, travels to public universities for two-day "shows" that feature huge full-color signboards and banners depicting aborted fetuses.
Over the last five years, it has appeared at about 60 universities, said Gregg Cunningham, the center's executive director.
Private universities, unlike public ones, have the right to ban organizations from their campuses. In the near future, Cunningham said, if school officials deny the project access, "they will be punished."
Cunningham said schools that turn the group down could face having an airplane fly overhead — for days — towing a 50-by-100-foot banner depicting bloody fetuses.
"The airplanes will give us the opportunity to reach the elite, sectarian universities that have been pretty smug in thinking they can have a debate-free zone," he said. "We will use these pictures like a cudgel."
Cunningham said a number of private universities have denied the organization access in the past. Of three he named -- all Catholic universities — one said it had no recollection of a request for access or of turning it down, another said the Genocide Awareness Project had been allowed on campus, and the third said it turned down the request because it chose to use its own religious-based program to promote its antiabortion viewpoint.
While in many cases both sides are playing to their own constituencies, there are efforts to venture into the other's territory; for example, Cunningham said his group plans to focus on the "blue" states. "We will go after student opinion, and the pro-abortion states will become considerably less pro-abortion," he said.
Groups on both sides are trying untraditional approaches, such as distributing information at concerts or art shows.
NARAL Pro Choice America is testing a few pilot programs to see what proves effective. Last year, it sponsored a tour by Em and Lo, two online sex columnists, to do "Sex Ed for Grown-Ups," a six-city stint in bars and clubs around the country. The aim, Seldin said, was to reach post-college young people in areas like Portland, Ore., and Madison, Wis., where the audience might be receptive to getting involved.
"They talked about issues in a very humorous way, and reached audiences of people who never would have come out for a speech by a political figure or a talk on the history of reproductive rights," Seldin said.
The antiabortion movement is also trying to find new ways to appeal to younger activists.
"The pro-life movement has been portrayed as out of sync and curmudgeonly old white men. By embracing newer design techniques, the MTV mentality — if that makes us hip, so be it," Jones said.
And what could be cooler than rock? "Rock for Life," based in Stafford, Va., has a number of antiabortion bands listed on its website and has released three CDs. The website also lists, as a warning to listeners, what it calls "pro-abortion" bands.
"I get so many bands asking to join these days, I can't keep track," said Erik Whittington, director of the group.
And antiabortion rockers are the ultimate rebels, Whittington said, because "since we've grown up in a culture of death, it's rebellious to be pro-life."
by alfayoko2005 | 2005-07-08 21:49