For the generation born more than 20 years after Roe v. Wade, the most public, relentless assault on abortion access in their lifetimes has taken place over the past two months. How does it feel to live through a conservative backlash to progress that was well underway when your parents were your age? What does watching this cavalcade of anti-abortion legislation make its way from one state to another and another do to a young person’s sense of safety and self? ThinkProgress spoke with college women in Washington, D.C. — at Howard University, Catholic University, Georgetown University, and George Washington University — about how news of these bans is affecting their lives.
“It does lead to this kind of hopelessness. Can I even trust the people who I’ve elected here to stand up for me and every other woman in this city, in this country?”
Soni Chaturvedi, 20, George Washington University
My parents are from India. They came to this country because they wanted to give my sister and I opportunities that we wouldn’t otherwise have as girls. So finding a fulfilling career path, finding happiness, it isn’t only just important to me; it’s also a way to pay respect to everything my parents have done for me. And to do that right now means not having a child. I want to go to law school and travel and find new hobbies. I’m 20. I don’t know who I am, let alone having the capacity or even means to take care of another human being.
I’m a woman of color, but I have a lot of privilege. If I were ever in a situation that I did need a safe abortion, I think that would be accessible to me. I’ve always felt very lucky that I was brought up in a time in our history where a woman of color gets to have the opportunities that we do, to have our first black president. But recently I feel like we’ve been traveling back in time, and I did not voluntarily get into a time machine.
I just feel like having this choice for my own well-being is a decision no one else should have. You may not be comfortable with abortion, and that’s okay! But it’s not your body and it’s not your life or a decision for you to make. If you really care about life, let’s start caring about people who are actually here: Paying people better, improving the education system, better preventative health care.
I do have people who I’m close to who’ve had abortions in the past. And knowing where they are now — how happy and successful, how grateful they were for being able to make that decision on their own — hearing from them now has been really powerful. I’m from Philly. On principle, I wouldn’t see myself moving to the states where that [anti-abortion] legislation has been passed. As a person of color, I wouldn’t want to move to those states in the first place. But the fact that this is even happening, at all, in one state, let alone in several, it kind of makes you feel like, are you ever really protected? I like to think that it would never happen in a place like D.C., but who am I to say that it wouldn’t? So it does lead to this kind of hopelessness. Can I even trust the people who I’ve elected here to stand up for me and every other woman in this city, in this country?
The thing that is really upsetting and, I guess, tragic, about the whole situation is that: The people of Alabama didn’t ask for this. A high percentage of the people there support having access to abortion. I wasn’t planning on a school there for law school, but even if I was, I wouldn’t now, and that’s unfortunate. Because the people in Alabama are good people who need good lawyers and a good health care system, but because of their careless legislators, the state loses its opportunities for people who deserve it. Because of a few old, white men.
“I feel afraid to voice my opinions about this here.”
Joanna Nguyen, 19, junior at Catholic University
I get CNN notifications on my phone, so I’ve been following all of this news. But I’m lucky: There’s a Planned Parenthood two Metro stops from here. I’ve gotten birth control from there. I know it’s an option for me. To know that, in more rural states, people have to travel so far, and then once they get there, face protestors who are screaming at them, even just for a checkup, just for a mammogram, just because people associate Planned Parenthood with abortion.
I am pro-choice. And it’s very strange because we get classes off here for the March for Life. You used to have to email a professor and you could be excused for it, but this year they just cancelled classes. I thought it was strange that a school would do that. I went to public schools growing up, first in Houston and then in Fairfax, Virginia. In Houston, people are pretty liberal, and in Northern Virginia, too. D.C. is pretty progressive, too. If I needed an abortion, I could get one. But if I were still living in Texas, it would be a lot more difficult for me. I don’t know what I would do.
I know a lot of people who are very Catholic. I personally don’t align with Catholicism. I was raised Catholic, but I’m an atheist now. I didn’t really choose to come here. My stepdad is a professor here, so my tuition is waived. And in some ways, it’s nice because sometimes I fear that I don’t listen to the other side as much, because I don’t always want to empathize with a side that isn’t compassionate towards mine. But learning the thought process behind their point of view has been interesting. I did have to pay for my IUD out of pocket because my insurance is through Catholic [University], and they don’t cover it. It was $800 and I’ve only paid half of it off, which is also really frustrating.
I wish [people who are anti-choice] had more sympathy for why women get abortions. A lot of people here are adopted and say that you can always “adopt, not abort,” but I think: What if that child isn’t adopted? What if they end up in the foster care system? What if they aren’t as lucky as you were? There are women here who say, “I’m a pro-life feminist.” I understand where their heart is, but also, [the people who write these bills] want to take away women’s rights, not just abortion. It affects all our other reproductive rights and our health care.
I also feel afraid to voice my opinions about this here. For the first time, I’m afraid to speak out about it. I’ve only been here for two years, but people are pretty vocal about being anti-abortion. I see a lot of classmates here post anti-abortion stuff on their social media. It’s a lot of memes and things from Live Action. Typical Catholic, anti-abortion rhetoric. There are people here who are pro-choice, but they tiptoe around saying that.
“Let’s be honest: America doesn’t care about lives. They take lives every single day.”
Alonda Brown, 20, Howard University
I was talking about the abortion bans to a friend just the other day. It just seems like a lot of men deciding. It’s men trying to tell women how to control their bodies, how to reproduce, and when. It’s really sick to me. I don’t understand how someone is going to force a woman to carry something in there for nine months — and you know with pregnancy, things can go wrong. You can lose your life. It’s a lot that comes with pregnancy that should not be forced upon a human. And for men to not understand the barriers and everything that we go through, it’s just sick.
The worst thing to me about [the abortion bans] is that I don’t think the men actually care. It’s something about men: They like to control women. They just want to control us so bad. And it’s like, you don’t even really care about us. It’s just another thing to control in a woman.
Let’s be honest: America doesn’t care about lives. They take lives every single day. So let’s not act like you actually care.
It makes me scared for my rights in the future. Because if they can take away this one thing, imagine what [else] they could do. This is the thing they’re trying to take away. What else can you take away? Women already don’t get paid the same. Just imagine what other repercussions that there could be, just to put women beneath them. It’s sad. This is a sign of future sexist laws, absolutely.
I’m not for abortion. I would never get an abortion in my life. But I would never tell another woman that she had to create a child, what she should do with her body, with her life.
[When I think about where to live after graduation], I feel like with the abortion laws coming on so strong, and so many men are just trying to push this issue, you never know where you can live. [Any] state could be affected tremendously. It could just be like, BOOM, no abortions. So you never know. It’s something to really think about. You really have to look into a lot, when it comes to figuring out what’s safe for me. Wherever you move, it could be that state tomorrow. Tomorrow.
“It’s not that I don’t support religious freedom. It’s just that I support health care for all.”
Madison Berry, 19, Georgetown University
I am a health care policy major. I definitely look at abortion as just another health care procedure. Health care and health insurance are a human right.
I grew up in Maynard, Massachusetts. So I don’t feel threatened at all at a state level, because that’s not happening to me and my governor spoke out against it. But from a Supreme Court, national, Constitutional level, I definitely feel threatened. In the beginning of the school year, a woman from NARAL Pro-Choice came to speak about what the future of reproductive rights looks like, with the 2018 election approaching, and just how scary it is at that federal level, with everyone being able to dictate what an undue burden is. It’s becoming scarier and more questionable, how easy or hard it is to get an abortion. Before, I never had questioned if I would be able to get an abortion, if I needed to.
Recently, I think I’ve changed my views a little bit on religion and health care. Because I was not raised religiously, and I never really thought about it. I get that religious freedom is one of our First Amendment rights. But on Georgetown’s campus, we have a hospital, and you can’t get your birth control there. You can’t have it delivered to that hospital, because Georgetown is a Catholic university. I was never exposed to something like that until college, so I never questioned religious freedoms in terms of basic health care. And now that I’ve learned more and am exposed to more, it’s not that I don’t support religious freedom. It’s just that I support health care for all.
My sister and my mom actually went to Georgetown, so I was exposed to the religious life already, and I remember being told, “Oh, you don’t have to worry about the Jesuits. They’re super-progressive.” I am part of H*yas for Choice — Hoyas, but the “o” is an asterisk, because we’re not university-recognized, which means we don’t receive university funding. There’s a Right to Life group and a Love Saxa group, which is anti-gay — they’re “promoting traditional relationships” — and those are university-recognized.
How these abortion bans affect my relationship to my country — I think about that a lot! I guess I’m proud to be an American, whatever you want to say. But I think America is starting to regress. One side of it is really progressing, and one side is regressing. And I don’t feel like a strong attachment to America anymore. You know, you stand up to say the Pledge of Allegiance in high school, every single day. And towards the end of high school, I was like, I don’t know why we’re doing this. It makes me very disheartened, to see what’s going on. It’s pretty embarrassing, also.
“I think what’s disheartening is to see a policymaker, someone with that much power, making a decision that isn’t evidence-based.”
Isabele VanKampin, 22, Catholic University
I have a very strong opinion on abortion laws in general. Obviously, I go to Catholic and I am Catholic. I don’t necessarily agree with abortion. But as an educated person, I also recognize that there are certain ways to decrease abortion rates, and it’s not banning abortion. And I think that, also as a Catholic, it’s important to value life at all stages — so respecting the baby, but also respecting the mother and helping her out and making her feel supported. So as a Catholic girl, I would like to see more legislation in support of helping a mom who may be in that predicament and says, I really need support and I need help with childcare, or a liveable wage that I feel like I can raise a child. Those things, to me, are more important than something like banning abortion.
I understand what [these lawmakers] are trying to do. I don’t think they’re going about it the right way. I think that their goal is to decrease abortion. I don’t think that they’re trying to punish people, or that they’re trying to demonize people, but they are inadvertently doing it through trying to decrease abortions in the wrong way. A lot of research states that this is the wrong way to do it, and politicians should involve researchers more and listen to them. They could achieve their goals, while doing it in a systematic way that is actually effective.
I think what’s disheartening is to see a policymaker, someone with that much power, making a decision that isn’t evidence-based, and that isn’t based in what researchers say is best for people. If you’re going to be making policy, you should be making informed policies. If you take an office where you’re allowed to do these things, I think you make a pledge to be as informed as possible. And I don’t feel like that’s happening.
I would identify as a pro-choice person, even though I personally don’t think I would get an abortion. I think the pro-choice movement isn’t just about “let women have abortions if they want to.” It’s: You shouldn’t be making decisions for women. Women should be able to do what they want and make informed decisions. So I think that just speaks to a larger issue. If, as a policymaker, you’re not going to use the research to make informed laws about it, why are you telling me what to do?
If I’m being honest, I’ve never been a person who has been super-aware of politics. I don’t know that this was the push, but in the past year, I’ve been trying to be more aware of who these politicians are, what they stand for. Because it is so important and they can make such big changes to policies that do affect me. It makes you more aware in general. This doesn’t directly affect me; I don’t live in those states, and I’m not in a situation where I’m pregnant and thinking about terminating a pregnancy. But it does make me think: What if there was a policy that affected me?
“I knew things weren’t guaranteed. Nothing is a given to me in America.”
Annie Salyers, 21, George Washington University
I was raised in a low-income household by a single mother. I just always saw, from her perspective, what the world thought of women and poor women. So I knew that things weren’t guaranteed. I knew things were always a struggle. And I knew if I were 15 and needed an abortion, it could be difficult. Nothing is a given to me in America. I just know how long people have strived to get to where we are, and it’s always one step forward, two steps back. I always knew that things could be lost.
I’ve worked at NARAL Pro-Choice America in the past as an intern, so abortion laws, reproductive justice and rights are something I’m very passionate about. So I was definitely following the news of these bans. And working in a pro-choice space, you learn more and more and more about how hard it was, and still is, for women. But I always knew [abortion] was a privilege, unfortunately, even though I believe it’s a human right.
I think it’s just disappointing. It didn’t surprise me in any way. It’s more of a reminder of how I feel that a lot of America feels about women, or people in general with vaginas and uteruses — because this also impacts trans men and the non-binary community. It made me think a lot about socioeconomic status in America. Because I do have money in my savings, and if I ever needed an abortion, I could go somewhere and get one, and it probably would be pretty safe. But there are so many people that don’t have the same access to that.
I think what’s scary about it is that, I’ve always thought — as I think a lot of us do — that it’s pure luck, where and who we are. It’s just how the universe made its decision. So I could have very much been in a situation where I had no rights at all. So it could be me; it could be any one of us in this situation where we have no access to an abortion or reproductive rights, or where we could die from a pregnancy. It could very well be any one of us tomorrow. Who knows what could happen? Yes, I could get an abortion, right now. But things could get worse tomorrow, in a month, and we have to be very aware and keep up. I feel like the glass is cracking beneath my feet, and I can’t move, and I can’t stop it, and I just have to hope it doesn’t shatter…And what sealed it was when [now-Justice Brett] Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. That broke me in ways that I can’t even describe. So to see these laws now, it’s disappointing and disheartening, but I just feel like I was broken so completely by Kavanaugh. With these laws, it just hurts so much. But it wasn’t any more intense to me. It was: This is awful, but it makes sense.
A lot of what I’ve been remembering and learning these past few months is, we often say these are women’s rights, and they are. But there are so many people that are also affected by these laws and changes, and it is even harder for them to get access, because of their gender identity. That’s something we all need to think about. This is a reminder of how the country feels about women, but there are other even more vulnerable communities, like trans men, and we need to look out for them and include them in our activism.
The views of the women interviewed for this article are their own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the universities they attend.