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Young adults infamous for their absence from the polls are feeling more motivated than ever to vote now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. Several told Atlanta Civic Circle they feel the decision is the culmination of neglect and incompetence from politicians over the past decade.
The 18-24 demographic has consistently shown the smallest voter turnout and had the least influence in U.S. elections, whether at the national, state, or municipal level. According to Census data, the 2020 election did mark an increase in voter turnout across the board, with the largest increase coming from voters under 40.
The Supreme Court’s overturn of the almost 50-year precedent that abortion rights are constitutionally protected could be another key indicator for a younger generation starting to realize the many ways that the decisions politicians do–or don’t–make affect their lives.
Since abortion rights are no longer protected at the national level, many young women like Annie Levy, an 18-year-old Galloway School graduate heading to Boston University, are seeing the importance of voting at the state level.
“I think [politicians] firmly supporting abortion and Roe v. Wade–and just, like, women’s reproductive health–is super-important to me at this point in my life, especially for my friends who are living [in Georgia] for the next four years,” said Levy, who identifies as a Democrat.
Abortion laws affect younger women more than any other demographic. Roughly 71% of the women who seek abortions are under age 29, according to Kaiser Family Foundation–and many live in states, including Georgia, where lawmakers who are much older and still majority-male are likely to ban abortion either outright or by reducing the legal window to six weeks in the near future.
Consequently, a lot of young women are looking to the politicians up for election in the fall midterms to take a stance defending their right to an abortion.
“I would say right now [for me] the main thing is letting women have more rights than guns. That’s number one, because that’s … the main thing that’s affecting me and my life, but I think it’s affecting everyone,” said Peyton Hunter, an 18-year-old rising senior at Galloway, who also identifies as a Democrat and says she plans to vote this fall.
The threat to abortion rights has not only motivated young liberals to exercise their democratic rights–it’s also caused some younger conservatives, who may have leaned firmly right in the past, to reconsider their political stance. Among adults under age 30, 74% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to recent data from Pew Research Center.
“I have no idea who to vote for anymore. I think we should be able to get abortions, but if you want to vote [politicians who support abortion rights] in, that’s going to come with some stuff I don’t agree with,” said Kate Hicks, a 21-year-old rising senior at the University of Tennessee, who identifies as a conservative.
“It’s really hard to vote when you kind of pick and choose ideas from different parties,” Hicks added.
Even some younger voters who may not agree with universal abortion rights do agree that the Supreme Court overstepped in their July 24 ruling.
“After a certain amount of weeks, it doesn’t sit right with me, but I think that shrugging it off across the board completely removes forms [of proper use]. I’ve always thought that abortion should be done on a case-by-case basis. With things like rape or incest, you obviously don’t have to carry that [person’s] child,” said Justin Clopton, a 17-year-old rising senior at Woodward Academy, who identifies as a “moderate Democrat.”
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade highlights a trend that’s unsettling to many young people, where much older judges and lawmakers have the power to decide–or not decide–issues that disproportionately affect young people in ways that directly contradict their wishes.
It happened when lawmakers failed to adequately protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. It happened when they refused to implement any meaningful police reform after the many instances of police brutality in recent years. Now, it is happening with abortions, some high school and college students told Atlanta Civic Circle.
“We’re constantly seeing all the effects of these political actions, like … seeing people lose their lives to issues that we can solve,” said Lavender Weigel, a 22-year-old film student at Oglethorpe University, who identifies as a “hardcore leftist.”
“I wasn’t super huge on voting, just because I don’t like supporting the Democratic Party,” Weigel said. But they are rethinking their anti-voting stance.
“Being a trans person, any Republicans getting in power–especially following the overturning of Roe v. Wade–is very scary because that means we no longer have a right to medical privacy. For me, I’m on hormone replacement therapy that could easily get restricted if any Republican gets into government right now,” Weigel explained.
“Just seeing the intense growth of the alt-right movement motivates me a lot more to be involved politically,” they added.
Now that they’ve reached voting age, a generation that’s grown up watching from the sidelines as politicians stripped away their right to choice, neglected to adequately protect their safety in schools, and enacted economic policies that are proven to favor the rich and hurt the poor could finally have a say in their own future.
If the threat to abortion rights galvanizes this generation of new voters to go to the polls for the upcoming midterms in significant numbers, then, for the first time in a long time, politicians will be forced to listen to what they want if they wish to stay in office.
Kailen Hicks, a rising senior at Galloway School, is interning with Atlanta Civic Circle.
Christian Knox contributed to this story. He is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee and is an Atlanta Press Club intern with ACC for the summer.