Young Women React to ‘Roe’ Decision, and Worry About What’s Next

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A few minutes after I read that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, I put on my shoes and went out into the street, not knowing where I was going, exactly, just feeling that I couldn’t sit alone with my emotions. It was a beautiful day in New York, at odds with the sense of foreboding I was feeling. It reminded me of the fine weather on 9/11, another day when you knew that everything was about to change—and not for the better.

Part of me just wanted to offer my ear to anyone who wanted to talk about the decision. It had been almost a decade since I started interviewing teenage girls for a book about social media called American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers—a book which turned into an investigation of misogyny in the lives of girls. Back then, some people would have told you that such a thing didn’t exist; the received wisdom was that American girls were the freest on earth. And now, those girls I interviewed are young women, waking up to having their constitutional right to abortion stripped away. It made me so sad, thinking of this additional burden falling on them as they entered adulthood.

I had two abortions myself, one in my 20s and one in my 30s. Many people have written eloquently about why they made the decision; for me, both times, it was out of financial need. The main thing I remember about the first was an antiabortion protester spitting on me as I went into the clinic where I had the procedure done.

Just an hour after the news had broken last Friday, there were young women making protest signs in Tompkins Square Park, about a block from where I live. I sat with them on the grass. “I feel lucky I live in a state where I still have access to abortion, but it makes me feel almost guilty for all the women who don’t,” said Lauren Elizabeth Quinn, 24, a childcare worker visiting from Santa Cruz, California.

Her friend, Isabella Bedford, 25, was lettering a sign that said: “YOU CAN ONLY BAN SAFE ABORTION.” They were planning on going to a rally later in Washington Square Park.

“I feel anger, fear,” said Quinn. “I think about how much worse it’s going to get—especially for people who have limited resources and access to health care. I’m worried that, if it starts here, where does it end? Am I not gonna be able to marry a woman if I fall in love with her? What other rights am I not gonna have? I think everybody should be afraid of that.”

News of the Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization had included the concurring opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas, in which he said that the Supreme Court “should reconsider” previous rulings codifying rights to contraception access, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriage. It was quite a flex, coming at the beginning of a weekend when Pride celebrations were happening across the country. It seemed like something the once taciturn, Catholic-raised Thomas must have been waiting to say since he was appointed to the Court by George H.W. Bush in 1991.

“They say, like, ‘Oh, Handmaid’s Tale is such an exaggeration,’ but how is this not them trying to set up a patriarchal theocratic state?” asked Grace, 21, a college student in Los Angeles, who was having Mexican food on Avenue A with her friend Moriah, 21 (citing privacy concerns, they declined to give their last names).

“How can they even let people who’ve been accused of sexual misconduct decide on cases that could involve when someone’s raped?” asked Grace. She was referring to Thomas’s alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill and Justice Brett Kavanaugh being accused of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford. “The majority of people don’t want this,” she said.

Young people especially don’t want abortion access to end. Which stands to reason: In 2019, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that people ages 20 to 29 make up 57% of all people who have abortions. A Gallup poll from earlier this year found that, at 53%, Americans 18 to 29 are more likely than older Americans to believe that abortion should be legal under any circumstances. Only 11% felt it should be illegal.

“This seems like an attack on sex,” Moriah said. “Like I get the feeling the people who don’t want women to have abortions are anti-sex in general. They want all us slutty girls to change our ways,” she added sardonically.

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