Newsweek's Kliff Laments 'Lack of Passion' Among Millennial Generation Pro-choicers

"How can the next generation defend abortion rights when they don't think abortion rights need defending?"

That's the question posed by the subheader to Sarah Kliff's article for the April 26 dead-tree edition of Newsweek entitled, "Remember Roe!"

You may recall Kliff as the Newsweek staffer who complained that the House of Representatives has an "anti-abortion rights majority."

In her April 26 piece, the Newsweek staff writer cranks up the melodrama volume knob to 11, lamenting that Democrats are not the reliable vehicle for the pro-abortion lobby that they were 30 years ago (emphasis mine):

When the history of the 21st century is written, March 21, 2010, will go down as the day Congress cleared the way for health-care reform. Yet for those in the abortion-rights community, March 21 will mark a completely different turning point: the day when they became acutely aware of their waning influence in Washington. The Democratic Party has, since 1980, supported a woman's right to an abortion. But in 2008 it decided to broaden its appeal by running an unprecedented number of anti-abortion-rights candidates in socially conservative swing districts. That move helped secure a robust House majority for the Democrats.

But abortion-rights supporters could no longer count on that majority to vote their way. The shift first became clear during the health-care debate, when abortion-rights supporters found their cause rather easily brushed aside in pursuit of another, larger goal. Anti-abortion Democrats, most notably the now retiring Rep. Bart Stupak, pressed for stringent abortion restrictions. While Stupak's desired language did not ultimately survive, the final health-care law was more than a psychological setback: it requires separate payments for abortion coverage on the public exchange. The strict accounting rules could well prove so onerous that insurers drop abortion coverage altogether.

So if Democrats won't stand strong for abortion rights, who will?

Strict accounting procedures that provide a "psychological setback" to pro-choicers. That's what the House has to show for it's "anti-abortion rights majority"?!

Kliff went on to complain, of all things, that the millennial generation sees abortion as an issue with profoundly moral dimensions, even though the research she cited showed millennials also tend to think it wrong for government to take legal action to stop abortion:

New NARAL research, conducted earlier this year and released exclusively to NEWSWEEK, only amplified Keenan's fears. A survey of 700 young Americans showed there was a stark "intensity gap" on abortion. More than half (51 percent) of young voters (under 30) who opposed abortion rights considered it a "very important" voting issue, compared with just 26 percent of abortion-rights supporters; a similar but smaller gap existed among older voters, too. Worse still for NARAL, the millennials surveyed didn't view abortion as an imperiled right in need of defenders. As one young mother in a focus group told NARAL, it seemed to her that abortion was easily accessible. How did she know? The parking lot at her local clinic, she told them, was always full.

Millennials are more likely than their boomer parents to see abortion as a moral issue. In the NARAL focus groups, young voters flat-out disapproved of a woman's abortion, called her actions immoral, yet maintained that the government had absolutely no right to intervene. As one young woman in Denver said, "I only get mad when [a friend] tries telling me, 'It is like nothing, oh well, it is just an abortion.'?" It wasn't the abortion itself that seemed to trouble the woman; rather, it was her friend's nonchalance. "Even if it was like nothing," the woman told NARAL, "it was something."

Taking that into account, Kliff concluded by counseling the abortion-on-demand crowd to, for the sake of its cause, forsake its take-no-prisoners approach that has vociferously opposed any and all restrictions on abortion (emphasis mine):

So what might prompt the next generation to take up the cause? "If Roe were overturned, that would certainly be a game changer," NARAL pollster Anna Greenberg mused at a recent meeting. Of course, no one in NARAL wants it to come to that. Instead, within the abortion-rights community there's a growing consensus on a promising path forward: start an open discussion about the moral, ethical, and emotional complexity of abortion that would be more likely to resonate with young Americans. "It's a morally complex issue that both sides have tried to make black and white," says Greenberg. "We have to recognize the moral complexity."

Abortion-rights activists have traditionally hesitated on this front, viewing it as a slippery slope toward their own defeat. Instead, they often go to extremes to fend off even the smallest encroachments, opposing popular restrictions like parental-notification laws and bans on late-term procedures. Lately, though, Keenan has been more convinced that NARAL must adopt a more nuanced stance. On the 35th anniversary of Roe, in 2008, she bluntly told a crowd of hundreds in Austin, Texas—the state that launched the court case—that "our reluctance to address the moral complexity of this debate is no longer serving our cause or our country well. In our silence, we have ceded moral ground." She recently reiterated that argument to NEWSWEEK.

But when the political fight over abortion raged on the Hill this year, no one was talking about moral complexity. The key slogan for abortion-rights activists was both simple and inscrutable: STOP STUPAK. In the long run, if Keenan and her allies can't find a better way to connect with the next generation, they may find themselves much like the congressman himself—sidelined.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters