It’s becoming increasingly clear that reproductive rights are under attack from all angles. The past three years have brought an unprecedented wave of abortion restrictions on the state level, as well as for publicly-funded family planning programs. And conservative lawmakers are showing no signs of letting up. Congress is already kicking off 2014 with new efforts to restrict reproductive rights.
According to new research conducted by the sexual health nonprofit Advocates for Youth, however, those lawmakers are only going to continue drifting further away from their constituents. Their anti-choice agenda diverges sharply from one of the fasting-growing demographic groups in the country: young people of color.
The Millennial generation is defined as the Americans who were born between 1978 and 2000. It’s a more diverse group than any other generation in U.S. history — about 40 percent of Millennials define themselves as non-white, compared to just 30 percent of the general population. It’s also a rapidly expanding group, adding an estimated four million newly eligible voters to the voting pool every year.
In its new report, Advocates for Youth investigates the attitudes of young people of color on critical sexual health issues like abortion, contraception, and sex ed — and finds that this group takes very progressive positions on the policy issues that conservative lawmakers continue to go after. Millennials of color are ultimately very concerned with ensuring that people have access to the health care they need, and they believe that includes birth control, family planning services, and abortion. Over 90 percent of young people of color believe that sex ed classes should include information about preventing HIV and other types of STDs, and 88 percent want birth control to be included.
More than eight in ten Milliennials of color think that birth control is simply part of basic health care, and should be available through insurance benefits. Non-white Millennials are also likely to believe that women need access to legal abortion. Advocates for Youth points out that while communities of color are typically pegged as more religious than the general population, and therefore assumed to be more conservative on issues of abortion rights, their data doesn’t support that. Two-thirds of Millennials of color agree that regardless of how they personally feel abortion abortion, they believe it should remain legal:
Indeed, communities of color have mobilized against restrictive abortion policies for decades, particularly because these laws tend to disproportionately impact women of color. The younger members of these communities are no exception.
“Healthy lives, healthy relationships, and making decisions for themselves are the core values driving support for access to safe abortion among Millennials of color,” a memo summarizing Advocates for Youth’s finding notes. A similar ethos drives broad support for comprehensive sex ed among members of this population, who tend to acknowledge that sexual activity is part of growing up and teens need the information they need to remain healthy.
Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, Advocates for Youth’s vice president for strategic partnerships, said these results help dispel some of the myths about young people — specifically, that they’re apathetic and unengaged on policy issues, or that they’re not supportive of issues like birth control and abortion access.
“Young people, and especially young people of color, are still not really represented in a lot of the data when we talk about sexual and reproductive health and rights. This was an opportunity for us to learn, and to build the field to explore where young people of color are, instead of making assumptions or reinforcing some of the stereotypes and myths out there,” Thorne-Thomsen explained. “The whole project has been really important in reinforcing that young people are progressive and engaged.”
The results have some important takeaways for politicians hoping to appeal to a broad voting bloc, but they also have implications for the progressive community as a whole.
Thorne-Thomsen noted that the groups working to achieve reproductive justice need to figure out how to reach these young people of color in a way that appeals to them, and that involves meeting them at the intersections of multiple issues. “Young people are much more intersectional in the way that they approach their work,” she said. “More of our young people approach their work from a justice perspective — whether that’s economic justice, environmental justice, or reproductive justice. Justice is broader than a policy frame or a legislative frame… For a lot of our young people, coming at them through a very narrow frame doesn’t work. That isolates that issue from the rest of the realities of their lives, and young people don’t lead one-issue lives.”