The fight to preserve abortion rights and expand access to reproductive care is ramping up as the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case that could overturn Roe, and advocates in Colorado are calling on young people to get involved.
Next month, the Brazen Project, an organization led by Colorado youth in partnership with New Era Colorado that works to end abortion stigma on college campuses, will host their third annual Youth Activists for Abortion Access Summit (aptly acronymed YAAAS) that aims to bring young people into the movement and give them the connections, encouragement, and knowledge they need to participate.
“It’s a place to be with other people who share your values and form these connections,” said Max Mapes, Advocacy Lead Organizer for New Era Colorado, adding that those connections can be hard to come by for young people who live under their parents’ roofs.
From TikTok activism to trolling protesters at abortion clinics to viral graduation speeches, young people are breathing new life into the abortion rights movement at a time when abortion restrictions are being passed in record numbers and courts appear poised to roll back legal protections.
In fact, recent polling indicates that Gen Z is more supportive of abortion rights than previous generations were, and an American Psychological Association survey on stress found that Gen Z women are particularly afflicted by stress over a potential change in abortion laws.
Mapes said that for young people, abortion advocacy is about more than safeguarding their rights for the future–it affects them right now.
“We’re impacted by these choices. People as young as 10 years old can get pregnant, so why are they not being able to be engaged in this dialogue?” they said. “This is about being able to dictate our future, not only because we will be the ones 100 years from now reaping the consequences of it, but our present existence matters, and our ability to determine our current situation matters, not just our future situation.”
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Mapes said that despite never having lived in a pre-Roe era, young people know what it’s like for abortion care to be inaccessible.
“Young people understand not having access to abortion, whether it’s because of legal obstacles, or because of stigma or financial obstacles or time obstacles, and the fact that we live under our parents who might not agree with us on this,” they said. “As people who aren’t really given full autonomy over our bodies, I think we especially understand the significance.”
They said that’s true across the spectrum of sexual and reproductive care, including gender-affirming care.
Beyond the situation on the Supreme Court and regional threats to abortion access, young people have a lot to gain from reproductive health advocacy in Colorado. In fact, one of the only state laws restricting abortion relates to minors: a measure that requires abortion providers to notify parents of their decision to have an abortion.
Most states have some kind of “parental involvement” law for minors seeking abortion care, whether it’s requiring parents’ permission or simply notifying them. These laws are constitutionally sound so long as they have an option for “judicial bypass,” meaning that a judge can waive the requirement for a parent to be notified.
According to a recent CU Boulder study, however, judges deny these requests in as many as 13% of cases and can act based on their personal political views. Abortion rights advocates say that judges who have no expertise in reproductive health or youth development shouldn’t be gatekeepers for these personal medical decisions and that determining whether someone is mature enough to have an abortion, but not a child, is illogical. Judicial bypass presents an additional barrier for those who are undocumented or have undocumented family members and don’t want to go to a judge due to fears of immigration enforcement.
What’s more, these laws present safety concerns for minors who don’t have supportive families and may be at risk if they involve their parents in their decision. According to Advocates for Youth, one in five pregnant minors have experienced physical abuse by a parent or caretaker, and 30% of teens who don’t tell their parents about their abortions feared violence or being forced to leave home.
More broadly, a lack of access to confidential and affordable health services creates a barrier to sexual and reproductive health care for young people. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, concerns about confidentiality and lack of one-on-one time with a health care provider deter adolescents and young adults from obtaining contraceptives and preventing unwanted pregnancy.
Stigma and a lack of unbiased and factual information can also serve as barriers to reproductive care for young people–something the Brazen Project aims to tackle on college campuses.
For example, the organization does educational outreach to inform students of low-cost reproductive health services in their area raises awareness about anti-abortion pregnancy centers that are known to mislead those seeking abortion care and promote misinformation about abortion. These centers target young people in particular: they’re active on college campuses thanks to their mobile ultrasound vans and even give sex ed presentations to high schoolers that promote abortion stigma and misinformation.
Mapes said a core part of their mission is to reduce stigma by being “loudly and unapologetically pro-abortion” and giving young activists all the tools they need to succeed in creating a more accepting culture.
“With the Brazen Project and YAAAS, we are giving an opportunity to participate in this culture change,” they said.
The free summit is held in partnership with New Era Colorado, along with Soul 2 Soul Sisters, Let My People VOTE, the Interfaith Alliance, and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). It’s scheduled for Sept. 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Denver (the exact location is not being publicly advertised for safety reasons).