Who’s Missing at the 'Roe v. Wade' Anniversary Demonstrations? Young Women.

Today is the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, and droves of women are prepared to face rainy weather to support their positions during the annual Washington, D.C., demonstrations. But there will be one major difference with the demonstration route this year—it’s shorter.

“The organizers are getting older, and it’s more difficult for them to walk a long distance,” says Stanley Radzilowski, an officer in the planning unit for the Washington, D.C., police department. A majority of the participants are in their 60s and were the original pioneers either for or against the case, he says.

So this raises the question: where are the young, vibrant women supporting their pro-life or pro-choice positions? Likely, they’re at home. “Young women are still concerned about these issues, but they’re not trained to go out and protest,” says Kristy Maddux, assistant professor at the University of Maryland, who specializes in historical feminism.

Instead of painting a sign and taking to the streets, the modern feminist is probably discussing her views on a blog or in a chat room, Maddux says. “I don’t want to frame young women as lazy, but they don’t have any reason to believe that it matters if they go out and protest. Instead, they talk about their positions to friends and neighbors.”

This perspective might be hard for someone like Olivia Gans to understand. Gans is the spokesperson for National Right to Life, the nations largest pro-life organization, and she has been attending the rallies for more than 20 years. This year she expects to see a surge of young women, likely because of the Youth Rally and Mass for Life sponsored by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

But Gans acknowledges that the next generation of pro-life supporters is strongly tuned in to technology, whether it’s Facebook or YouTube. In fact, National Right to Life relies on both the social-networking and the video Web site to arrange events and increase membership. 

So what’s responsible for this generational divide among feminists? Maddux speculates that it’s personal experience. “Older generations had friends and family members who died of complications or found themselves sterilized because of abortion. Young women today don’t have that personal connection,” she says.

This theory holds true for Gans, who was personally affected by the abortion debate. In 1981, she decided to have an abortion, and just one year later she changed her position on the issue. Gans has spent the past several years sharing her story as a way to promote her pro-life philosophy. 

Because the role of the modern feminist is still unclear, so is the future of events like the Roe v. Wade rallies.  “I would say that memorializing Roe v. Wade will continue to happen, I just don’t know if it will always take the form of a march,” Maddux says.

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