The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization means that millions of young people across the country will be forced to live in a country in which they have fewer rights to bodily autonomy than their parents and grandparents.
Remy Bohm, a recent college graduate, is gearing up to move to Austin in the fall. They will pursue a PhD at the University of Texas, leaving their home state of Massachusetts behind for a state in which abortion clinics have already been shuttered in response to an abortion “trigger” law set to go into full effect in the state in mere weeks.
“It’s not just if I have an abortion or if I ever become pregnant and I would like to have an abortion…. But also that if I miscarry, I could be tried for murder,” Bohm said of their concerns about life in a post-Roe Texas. “That is a really serious thing that certainly makes Texas a much less attractive place.”
Bohm’s situation isn’t all that rare, as many current and prospective students are now reevaluating what states they can live in for school. Jess D’Agostino, a New Jersey resident and rising senior at the University of Michigan, could face a situation similar to Bohm’s. Though Michigan is controlled by a pro-abortion Democratic governor, the state has a pre-Roe abortion ban on the books from 1931. Whether or not the state’s Republican-controlled legislature succeeds in enforcing the law will likely fall on voters; until then, residents’ basic abortion rights remain in flux. D’Agostino called the Friday Dobbs decision “devastating.”
“I want to recognize that I understand my own privilege as a white woman living in New Jersey where pretty much my rights to health care and abortion rights are protected, but it’s less a fear for myself and more fear for the women that are not going to have access anymore,” she said.
D’Agostino is also a senior editor for the opinion section of The Michigan Daily, where she’s written in defense of abortion rights amid Republican efforts to roll back basic protections. For her, advocacy primarily takes the form of targeted donations to abortion funds and a commitment to education—whether through journalism or a potential career in law. “We need to understand the situation at hand and use all the tools that Gen Z has at our fingertips, whether that be social media, or access to the largest databases that our grandparents did not have,” she said. The goal? To “rewrite the narrative.”
Nathalie Saladrigas first got involved in abortion justice organizing at school. After founding Miami-Dade College’s Queer Collective for LGBTQ+ students, she realized that the club could also serve as a necessary space for abortion rights organizing. When talk began about a 15-week abortion ban in Florida earlier this year, she reached out to an organizer with Planned Parenthood Miami and started a chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action. Abortion rights quickly became the femme-led collective’s priority as they participated in rallies, phone banks, and canvassing efforts to expand access to abortion for people across the state.
Saladrigas is again taking to the streets, along with the thousands of other Americans taking part in rolling nationwide protests demanding access to safe abortions.. Centering her activism in her identity as a “queer, brown person who reproduces,” she’s spent the weekend speaking out against the Supreme Court’s ruling at several rallies and press conferences in the city. “There’s always something that you have to do, in my opinion,” Saladrigas said. And she’s not alone.
Others, like Georgina David, a public health and women’s studies student in San Diego and current Planned Parenthood employee, are dedicating their time to the cause in other ways. But across the different approaches for abortion rights advocacy, a shared truth remains: Newcomers and veteran organizers alike know that the death of Roe v. Wade is only the beginning in a series of attacks on basic human rights.
It’s no coincidence that in his concurring opinion to overturn Roe, Justice Clarence Thomas positioned other key victories of the past century—including the right to marriage for non-hetero couples (Obergefell v. Hodges), contraception (Griswold v. Connecticut), and same-sex relationships (Lawrence v. Texas)—squarely on the chopping block. Saladrigas describes the feeling of knowing these rights are far from being guaranteed as “beaten down.” “It’s just like, why don’t you see me as a person with a right to live? Why can’t I just live happily [and] marry who I want to?”
Students and young people have been on the forefront of the fight for abortion rights from the very beginning, so it only makes sense that they’re helping to lead the charge now. But in redefining an abortion rights movement that has historically been dominated by wealthy, white women, much of Gen Z are doing things differently.
Saladrigas’s work around abortion justice, for example, happens primarily in queer spaces and spaces led by people of color, in part because of her history. She was forced to leave the United States at the age of 6 when her mother was deported to Colombia, separating her from her father for years until she decided to move back to Miami on her own. Back in Florida, Saladrigas found little institutional support as she struggled with homelessness and mental health issues related to the move—even and especially from the supposedly “pro-life” leaders in the state. It was this experience that led Saladrigas to understand abortion as an intersectional issue that goes beyond mainstream anti-abortion rhetoric.
“It has been really hard, because you have to dip your toe in everything,” Saladrigas said of her intersectional organizing efforts during a time when Florida was pushing both the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the 15-week abortion ban. But she sees it as the only way forward. When issues of class, race, gender, and sexuality are so inextricably linked, it’s impossible to organize for one cause without paying attention to its many intersections.
That’s also part of the reason Georgina David started working for Planned Parenthood as an administrative assistant for their Sex Ed To-Go platform. In addition to advancing her goal of being a sex educator, the role involves translating crucial information about sexual and reproductive health into Spanish. In doing so, she helps to combat a major barrier to health care access for a population already marginalized in the US. “I want to do sex education,” she said. “And part of that comes with teaching people how to understand their bodies and make informed choices about their bodies. And so of course, it’s all interconnected.”
Polling has shown time and time again that young people support access to abortion more than their parents. With their rights currently in the hands of their state governments (about half of which will likely ban or otherwise heavily restrict abortion), more and more young people will take up the mantle of a decades-long fight for abortion rights.
“There are so many things that need immediate and active attention, it’s beginning to feel more and more that I would be doing a disservice both to myself and my community if I did not engage myself in community organizing and direct action,” said Bohm.
To do otherwise and ignore the glaring threats to long-held rights in the US—abortion rights included—would only enable existing systems of oppression. Though they would love to focus on their career in academia, they said, “none of it is worth it if people are dying because they’re denied abortions…or because the world is going to be underwater in 50 years…or any one of these semi-apocalyptic scenarios. We simply don’t live in a time where you can afford that neoliberal aspiration.”