Skip to main content

Millennials have the power to protect Roe v. Wade

By Nancy Keenan, Special to CNN
updated 11:45 AM EST, Tue January 22, 2013
Young women hold placards during a pro-choice rally outside of the Supreme Court in Washington last year.
Young women hold placards during a pro-choice rally outside of the Supreme Court in Washington last year.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nancy Keenan: Tuesday marks 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade making abortion legal
  • Keenan: Millennial generation will play role in guiding policies
  • The baton to support pro-choice and Roe v Wade is passed to the millennials, she says
  • Keenan: Millennials will be nearly 40% of electorate in 2020

Editor's note: Nancy Keenan is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She will be stepping down from her role at the end of this month.

(CNN) -- There have been a few moments in our history when a generation has used the power of its numbers and its passion for a cause to transcend a deeply divided society and change the course of the future for the better.

We've come to one of those moments.

About every 80 years, a young civic generation has forced the nation to deal with its fundamental challenges, according to Morley Winograd and Michael Hais in their 2011 book, "Millennial Momentum." They cite the American Revolution, the Civil War and the New Deal as key moments when a generation came together to create a different society.

Nancy Keenan
Nancy Keenan

Today's millennial generation is the next generation to wield that power.

I am a baby boomer. In the late 1960s, my generation rallied to make the case that a woman's right to choose should be guaranteed, and, 40 years ago on Tuesday, the Supreme Court handed down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Today, younger than 40 have always lived in an America where abortion has been legal.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The pre-Roe v. Wade America is an America I remember all too well.

Before and after Roe v. Wade

Privileged women traveled overseas to get a safe, legal abortion. However, more often than not, women stayed in the U.S. and were forced to go to back-street providers where they were humiliated and sometimes even died from these procedures.

Memories of that era are fading as time goes by. But this past election cycle has proved that reproductive rights are still on the line. While Roe might guarantee the right to choose, a loud and organized movement is chipping away at a woman's ability to exercise her reproductive rights. In 2012, lawmakers enacted 42 anti-choice measures in 25 states.

As Roe v. Wade marks its 40th anniversary, Winograd and Hais's millennial generation is coming of age. Numbering 77 million, by the 2020 election, they will make up nearly 40% of the electorate. They are educated, motivated and progressive. They will be able to sway elections, determine public policy and transform America.

Abortion 40 years after Roe vs. Wade
Mississippi puts 'personhood' on ballot

Research tells us that millennials are overwhelmingly pro-choice, and we have seen them take a stand.

Like most of the public, millennials believe that politicians should not interfere with women's health care. And in turn, millennials have joined efforts to defeat Mississippi's "personhood" amendment, to protect funding for women's health services and to reject anti-choice candidates in the 2012 election. But it is crucial that even more pro-choice millennials continue to see the connection between the personal and the political because anti-choice activists are not slowing down.

Four decades after Roe: A legacy of law and morality

During the past two presidential elections, we have seen millennials' ability to exercise their power, speak up and change the fabric of our nation. Many are speaking up online, in the voting booth, at the grass-roots level and in the hallways of our organizations. They are telling their stories and charting their own path, but it is critical that we create pathways to broaden and build a new conversation about protecting women's reproductive health.

There is tremendous promise for what this generation can achieve, and where it wants to lead the conversation about the right to choose. As Roe v. Wade turns 40, the story of choice is at a crossroads. I know, with our voices combined, we will secure this hard-fought freedom for generations to come.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nancy Keenan.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT