Happy Birthday Roe v. Wade: Have America’s Young People Forgotten You?
Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision which established a woman’s right to an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy as a private choice, turns forty years old today, January 22, 2013. The ruling has been under attack in recent years as opponents have sought new opportunities to undermine its authority. New data from the Pew Research Center shows that while a majority of Americans still support Roe v. Wade, the next generation of supporters will have to work harder to keep it intact.
First, the good news. The report is called “Roe v. Wade at 40: Most Oppose Overturning Abortion Decision.” All double negatives aside, a majority of Americans (63%) want to uphold a woman’s right to choose. This holds true across religious and party affiliations. Evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group that favors overturning the Roe v. Wade decision. Shocker. Even Republicans are divided over support for Roe v. Wade with a slim majority, 48% to 46%, saying it should not be overturned.
Here is the bad news. While support for Roe v. Wade has remained consistent over the last 20 years, less than half (44%) of those ages 18-29 know the case was about abortion. Younger generations are significantly less aware of the subject of the case than their elder counterparts. This begs the question: does a decline in our awareness matter?
Typically, it doesn’t matter if we know the legislation and legal precedents that govern our daily lives. Chances are you didn’t know the Calder Act established standard time in the United States in 1918, though it regularly makes you late for work. We take plenty for granted. That young people know less about Roe, and nothing about the horrors of life before abortion was legal, is disturbing when we look at other trends in the data.
No matter how you slice it, everyone polled thinks the issue of abortion is relatively unimportant. Hard to believe, considering hype generated by the media and anti-choice extremists. No majority of any demographic – not men, not women, not Democrats or Republicans, none of the age groups, and not a single religious group define the issue as a critical one facing the country. Among those who favor overturning Roe v. Wade, 38% consider it a critical issue. Twenty nine percent of Evangelicals, the demographic most likely to favor the case be completely overturned, view the issue as a critical one. For those who favor upholding the decision, a mere 9% consider it a critical issue. This means that those most committed to the destruction of Roe v. Wade are paying significantly more attention to the issue than those of us committed to preserving our rights.
What does this mean for the future of Roe v. Wade? Americans as a whole still recognize the importance of preserving the Supreme Court’s decision but its safety is in doubt. Republicans are already focused on other new and creative ways to undermine your ladyrights. Opponents of abortion will surely capitalize on the public’s increasing lack of awareness around the issue. They will revoke the hard earned right to control our own bodies like a magician snatching a table cloth without breaking the stemware. Its up to supporters of women’s rights not to let it fade into obscurity, so that future generations know as much about Roe v. Wade as they do about Tyson v. Holyfield.
Natasha Roland has provided critical infrastructure support and strategic assistance to feminist organizations like the Voices of Women Organizing Project and the Global Justice Center, served as a staff member in the district office of Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano, interned for the Feminist Majority Foundation and is committed to advancing human rights, human happiness and the quality of life for as many people as possible. A Los Angeles native, she learned feminism from her mother who always changed the story to make sure that after marriage, Cinderella became a doctor.