URGE Executive Director Kierra Johnson Talks 42nd Anniversary of Roe v. Wade and What It Means To Young People

January 22, 2015 will mark 42 years since the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. It ruled that a state law banning abortion was unconstitutional because it violated a woman’s constitutional right. With the 42nd anniversary quickly approaching, I was joined by Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of URGE – a leading pro-choice organization who discussed what Roe v. Wade means to a new generation of young people, and whether or not the law is being upheld across the United States.



Candace Rose: What does Roe v. Wade mean to a new generation of young people who haven’t gone through seeing their friends or family having illegal abortions like in the ’60s and ’70s?

Kierra Johnson: “Young people are among the most people who know what the barriers are to abortion, in addition to the stigma around sex and sexuality including abortion. Young people are often the folks that can’t afford to pay for an abortion out of pocket. They’re also less likely to have insurance, and given the number of clinics that have closed across the country, geography has become an even bigger barrier for young people who might not have a license or don’t have a car or ways to get hundreds of miles away to the closest clinic.

On top of that, there are 38 states that require parental involvement before having an abortion. No, it’s not the 1970s, but young people are uniquely versed in the many barriers to accessing abortion services. Young people know the importance of supporting and respecting women’s reproductive decision making. No matter our age, when personal health decisions are ours to make, we are all stronger and young people get that. Just like it meant in the 1970s, it means something today.

In addition to legalizing abortion, it means valuing women’s decision making. It affirms all of our rights to health and dignity. We have a legal right in this country that is meaningless to so many because it’s been restricted to a point where it’s completely out of reach. Just in the last four years there have been over 230 abortion restrictions enacted in the states. We really see abortion restrictions impacting young people given the parental involvement laws.

Native American women who receive services through Indian Health Services, their coverage is restricted. Women in nine states have had their private insurance plans restricted and in 25 states insurance has been restricted even through the exchanges. But the reality is that women of color are also disproportionally affected by these restrictions. Abortion restrictions fall hardest on those who are struggling financially, and in this country that’s more likely to be women of color. A quarter of Black women and a quarter of Latinas are living below the poverty level. When we’re talking about cost as a barrier, it is felt deeply and broadly by women of color in this country. Unfortunately we’ve got legal healthcare in this country that is not a reality for many women across the country.”


Candace Rose: What is being done now to address these issues?

Kierra Johnson: “There’s an amazing amount of work that is happening both at the state level and at the national level. Organizations like Urge are working with young people and identifying these young people across the country who want to have a new conversation. They’re interested in talking about feminism and sexual assault and racial justice, and they’re increasingly frustrated with the continuous intrusions on women’s personal decision making.

We talked with them about these issues and by the time that we do training and conversations and introducing them to each other they’re so impassioned that they’re ready to talk to other peers and family members, but most importantly they’re actually engaging state legislatures and members of congress in Washington D.C., so the conversations are happening and there is a growing momentum and movement happening at the state level.

There’s also a lot of policy advancement that we’ve seen in cities like in Seattle and in New York, Philadelphia, Cambridge. In Travis County in Texas we’ve seen resolutions passed calling for the listings of abortion coverage bans. In states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire the elected are passing legislation establishing buffer zones around abortion providers and clinics protecting them.

In some states folks are working on ballot initiatives. In Colorado and in North Dakota every day people defeated ballot initiatives that called for personhood of fertilized eggs. We’re seeing both social movements happening, but also political activity happening across the country and it’s really exciting to see that kind of momentum and energy coming from all kinds of directions as it relates to this issue.”


Candace Rose: Where can readers go for more information, Kierra?

Kierra Johnson: “Urge is a part of a campaign called All Above All. It’s a multiyear effort that has more than 60 organizations from across the country working together to make sure that we end abortion coverage bans. That campaign can be accessed through AllAboveAll.org, and then Urge: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, which is my organization working with young people on these issues can be reached at Urge.org.”


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