Debbie Wasserman Schultz is wrong: Young women care about their reproductive rights

DNC chair accuses young women of "complacency" on abortion, but there's no reason to think it's so

By Amanda Marcotte
Published January 6, 2016 7:23PM (EST)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (AP/Lynne Sladky)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (AP/Lynne Sladky)

It's widely believed, by both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters, that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is in the bag for Clinton. If so, she really needs to stop trying to help, because her "help" often seems indistinguishable from trying to sabotage Clinton.

The most recent example comes courtesy of The New York Times Magazine, which published Ana Marie Cox's interview with Schultz that featured this unfortunate exchange:

Do you notice a difference between young women and women our age in their excitement about Hillary Clinton? Is there a generational divide? Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.

Say what? Presumably Schultz is referring to the fact that women under 30 are more likely to be supporting Sanders than Clinton, but if so, her argument makes no kind of sense at all. Sanders and Clinton may differ on many issues, but one place where their views are identical is with regards to reproductive rights. Both candidates have a 100% rating from NARAL and both candidates speak out loudly and boldly and completely unapologetically about their support for a woman's right to choose abortion or access contraception. There's no reason to think that Sanders would be less avid about protecting the right to choose if he's elected President.

Of course, part of the problem here is the question is based on a false premise, which is that the most newsworthy gap in primary voters is between young women and older women. In reality, both younger and older women are more likely to support Clinton than Sanders. The real base of Sanders support comes from men under 30, a gap which has to be about gender, because otherwise, women tend to be more supportive of the "socialist" values that Sanders stands for than men are.

Insulting the people whose support you're trying to get is generally frowned upon in politics, so why would Schultz say such a thing about young women? Part of the issue is that sneering at young women for complacency has been an unfortunate habit among feminists for roughly forever, ever since women who marched for suffrage were complaining that these young flappers don't know how good they've got it. Every few years, or months sometimes, there's a dust-up when some older feminists point a finger at the young ones for supposedly not caring enough, followed by an inevitable debunking where it's pointed out that young women are, in fact, tying on their shoes and pulling out their protests signs and fighting for their right to control their own fertility. Schultz was probably just regurgitating a thing you hear around, not even thinking about how nasty it sounds to accuse the people who need abortion access the most of caring the least about it.

But is there any evidence that it's true when it comes to this assumption that young people don't care? Well, not really. Attitudes about abortion have remained relatively stable since Roe vs. Wade, with the majority of Americans agreeing that abortion should be legal in many or all circumstances. Young people, ages 18-34, are more likely to identify as "pro-choice" than their elders. Women, too, are more likely to identify as "pro-choice" than men.

Of course, answering a survey is one thing but actually hitting the streets is another. It's certainly true that older women run most pro-choice organizations and write the biggest checks. But that's less a sign that they care more and more a sign that they have more money and have had more years to work their way to the top. But if you look at who is marching in the streets, escorting at abortion clinics, making phone calls and knocking on doors, and flooding the Texas state capitol building to protest for abortion rights, the faces are just as likely to be younger as older.

There is a whiff of victim-blaming to this line, as well. It's likely unintentional, but the implication is that the rash of anti-choice legislation in recent years is somehow the result of young women not fighting hard enough. Erin Matson, who has been rallying the youthful troops on Twitter in response to Schultz's comment, called this aspect out.

Young women have been speaking out against these laws, as well as the attacks on Planned Parenthood. I personally spoke at a rally for Planned Parenthood a few years ago and the crowd that came out and stood in that miserably cold weather on a February afternoon veered young. I've been a pro-choice journalist covering the reproductive rights beat for nearly a decade now — including doing a weekly podcast for RH Reality Check for eight years — and I've met countless numbers of activists in that time, many of whom became trusted sources and friends. And I can assure you, young women care. College kids, twenty-somethings: Every day they are out there, often doing the thankless behind the scenes work, because they care. After all, it affects them. They are the primary target of these attacks on reproductive rights.

The reason that these laws keep getting passed is not because women, young or otherwise, aren't resisting hard enough. It's because Republican politicians don't care if the people they are trying to screw over, in this case young women, hate them for it. That's the price of admission, after all, of trying to screw people over. As long as Republicans hold the state legislatures, they are going to obsessively pass a bunch of laws trying to punish young women for fucking, and they don't care how many marches you organize against them. The only real way to reverse this trend is to elect more Democrats. Considering that young women are more likely to be Democrats than any other demographic, they are demonstrably the least responsible group for the current state of affairs. So quit blaming them, and start blaming the old Republican men that are actually the source of our problems.

DNC Defends Attack on Sanders Campaign

Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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