For the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, also referred to as NARAL Pro-Choice America, 2012 marked the end of an era.
The nation’s oldest pro-choice advocacy organization lost its longtime president, Nancy Keenan, that year. Ranked by Washingtonian Magazine as one of the most powerful women in the District, her absence went anything but unnoticed on Capitol Hill.
Being a former statewide elected official in her native Montana — where she also served as a prominent legislator — before heading NARAL, Keenan opted to retire for a very perplexing reason. According to her, there was a marked “intensity gap” between young supporters of women’s choice and their counterparts in the antiabortion movement.
Research data collected by NARAL has shown that Millennial voters who oppose abortion rights consider their views to be highly important come election day. Pro-choice Millenials, meanwhile, generally do not share this pronounced level of zeal. By opening the door for someone younger to succeed her, Keenan hoped that the abortion rights message would resonate with a greater share of today’s youth.
“People give a lot of lip service to how we’re going to engage the next generation,” she stated, “but we can’t just assume it will happen on its own.”
The existence of an intensity gap is not agreed upon by all feminists, though. Chloe Angyal, an editor at the popular blog Feministing, not only denied it outright, but said that the “pro-choice movement....would fail without the intensity – the enthusiasm, the passion, the commitment, and the unpaid or underpaid labour - of young people.”.
Roughly seven years down the road, I believe that there most definitely is an intensity gap, though for a reason that usually goes unmentioned. Since the Supreme Court made its landmark Roe v. Wade decision well over forty years ago, those strongly opposed to abortion procedures have had a remarkable amount of children; no doubt due to the doctrines of rigid religious beliefs. Their children, in turn, were raised to be reflexively antiabortion and by now probably have, or are preparing to have, offspring of their own.
Such a cycle results in antiabortion memes being passed down in a generational fashion — even if the religious underpinning of these is rejected. Of course, not all of the kids in question will disdain legalized abortion. As they go through life, many stand a reasonably good chance of moderating their respective opinions due to the real world’s habit of not operating within the convenient extremes of black and white.
This being said, it is undeniable that there are many morally sound reasons for standing against abortion on a personal basis. However, in a philosophically pluralistic society such as the United States, respect for the viewpoints of others is mandatory; so long as these do not entail breaking the law, of course.
Perhaps if the hard-line partisans on either side of the abortion rights debate could recognize a decidedly simple fact like this, there would be no need for a pro- or anti-choice movement of any kind. Rather, people would mind their own business and not attempt to manipulate the political process for their own purposes.
While this might be a tad too idealistic for contemporary American society, coming to terms with a Supreme Court decision the better part of half a century old would be a very good start.
Joseph Ford Cotto, 1st Baron Cotto, GCCCR is the editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Review of Books. In the past, he covered current events and style for The Washington Times's Communities section, where he interviewed personalities ranging from Fmr. Ambassador John Bolton to Dionne Warwick. Cotto was also a writer for Blogcritics Magazine and Yahoo's contributor network, among other publications. In 2014, H.M. King Kigeli V of Rwanda bestowed a hereditary knighthood upon him, which was followed by a barony the next year.
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