Girls cast

HBO’s “Girls” … Representing a generation betrayed by Roe’s false freedom.

As the United States marks the fortieth anniversary of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, there’s been a lot of talk about who’s winning and who’s losing in the contentious debate over abortion rights. A focal point in that debate has been Millennials like myself, who’ve lived their entire lives with a constitutional “right to abortion”.

In the pro-choice camp, baby boomers like Nancy Keenan, former president of NARAL, are balking at the lack of youth enthusiasm for their cause. Meanwhile, Millennial women in the pro-choice camp are firing back at their older counterparts, one claiming that they only “prioritize the needs of white, middle class, straight … women, and work within the Democratic party politics system to achieve their goals” whereas the younger set see abortion rights as a part of an ongoing cultural change.

Meanwhile, the pro-life movement boasts an enthusiastic youth wing that has even taken people in the pro-choice ranks by surprise. Year after year, youth fill the National Mall in Washington DC, with bright signs and lively chants — and this year was no different, with perhaps the largest March for Life crowd in its history. Some polling indicates that U.S. youth are more “pro-life” than other age-groups.”

And yet, Pew Forum just released data indicating that Millennials as a whole are not too concerned about abortion. According to Pew, roughly 57 percent of individuals ages 18-29 did not know that the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade involved abortion. Additionally, 62 percent of individuals in that age group do not think abortion is a critical issue facing this country.

The general apathy of my generation towards abortion is troubling, especially considering just how much Roe has affected their lives. Collectively, we have sustained much loss.

The effects begin with the 55 million lives that have been lost—individuals who would have been peers and friends, even brothers and sisters, whose unique lives we will never get to know. Then there are the women, many of whom are our friends, who have had abortions and have come to regret the decision to end their child’s life.

But, additionally, Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases regarding abortion, alongside contraception, have had a significant effect on my generation’s understanding of sex, relationships, and children; more significant than most Americans may realize.

Take this story I heard recently from a young college-aged woman I was seated next to on a train. When the subject of my pro-life work came up, she eagerly volunteered that she was “pro-life” and “against abortion”. She then proceeded to tell me a sad tale.

She was a freshman in college when she lost her virginity, she explained. A few weeks later, she took herself to the hospital with what she thought was unusually heavy bleeding. As it turns out, she had been pregnant and had miscarried. 

It never occurred to her that she could get pregnant, she said. They had used a condom. She wanted children some day, but obviously not at eighteen. I could sense her relief that she didn’t have to face the full ramifications of an unplanned pregnancy. Who knows what she would have done, ultimately, about that?

As I listened to her story, I couldn’t help but think about what a confused understanding of sex and its purposes she holds. Of course she was having sex, but why? Because she could. Because contraception and its backup programme, abortion, had separated sex from one of its natural consequences, pregnancy. She had reached early adulthood with the idea that protected sex was not committed, married sex, but contracepted sex. In her mind it was “unprotected sex [that] makes babies.”

And yet, how terribly deceived our generation is about “protection”.

The Guttmacher Institute reports that 54 percent of women seeking abortion were using contraception during the month they got pregnant. We can blame such a statistic on method failure or human error, but the fact of the matter is this: sex always involves the possibility of forming new life. Roe is proof that the “protection” of contraception is a myth. Together, contraception and abortion have robbed tens of millions of children of their lives, and removed the protection of marriage from two out of every five children born today and their mothers. They have left a generation confused, like my young travel companion, about the purposes and risks of sex.

And all this in the name of “freedom”. Reproductive freedom. Freedom of choice. Freedom to “define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” as stated in the Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Sadly, this freedom is a farce. Those seduced by it, women especially, face being shackled with depression induced by the effects of multiple sexual partners. They are given the “choice” between killing their child, raising him mostly alone, or giving him or her to someone else to raise — each of these options often carrying a substantial degree of suffering. And they lack an understanding of sex, and to a degree love, for all the commitment and mystery it wonderfully bears.

Admittedly, a pro-life understanding of sexuality and procreation is difficult to sell in a culture which is saturated with messages reducing sex to a fun recreation that doesn’t always need commitment. But perhaps the conclusion of my conversation with my travel companion can serve as a ground for hope.

When I asked her if her miscarriage had caused any changes in her thinking and behavior she explained that she is definitely more careful about whom she has sex with, recognizing that she wouldn’t want to find herself pregnant by a man she wasn’t deeply committed to. It’s a step. If only she could go a little further and aim at nothing less than marriage.

Meg McDonnell is the communications director for the Chiaroscuro Foundation and a coordinator at Women Speak for Themselves

Meg T. McDonnell is Editor in Chief of Verily Magazine.