Bridging a Generation Gap on Abortion Rights

How Philly's Young Advocates for Planned Parenthood work to bring millennials into the fold.

Pro-abortion rights protesters rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2016.

Pro-abortion rights protesters rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2016.

If you want to get Joan Heider going, bring up H.B. 1948, the oh-so-appropriately numbered anti-abortion bill that’s gliding through the state legislature like a hot knife through butter. “Oh my God, that bill,” Heider says darkly as she sips tea in a coffee shop on Arch Street. “They can’t pass a budget, but this bill gets pushed through in three days?”

Heider, 27, pushes her red hair back over her shoulder. “It’s an insidious attack,” she declares. “They insist they’re passing it to help women. That’s what Kathy Rapp” — the state representative who sponsored H.B. 1948 — “called her last bill in 2012, the one that pushed ultrasounds on women seeking abortion: ‘Women’s Right to Know.’” She’s getting even more worked up. “People pushing pro-life have a very simplistic understanding of women’s reproductive rights. Their activism doesn’t spring from a desire to protect the unborn; it’s to control women’s lives. They’re pro-no-sex-for-women. You can tell they’re hypocritical because they’re not in favor of birth control!” She pauses for breath, and her friend Caitlin Dalik takes over:

“I’m tired of constantly getting emails that say ‘Call your senator! Act now to save women’s right to choose!’ Abortion is legal. We have to counteract the pro-lifers who’ll get on buses to D.C. at 5 a.m.”

Heider and Dalik, also 27, are millennials with a cause. The common-wisdom rap on their generation is that they’re slacktivists, only standing up for what they believe by clicking Facebook likes and sending tweets. Tell that to Heider, who traveled in March to Washington, D.C., to wait outdoors in line from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. in hopes of being admitted to the Supreme Court arguments on Texas’s Omnibus Abortion Bill. “It poured rain all night,” she says. “There were 20 mph winds. In the morning, they let 50 people in. I was number 42.” It was important, she explains, to be there “to show that it mattered, that we care.” Besides, “I got to see the three women justices smack down the Texas solicitor general.”

Both Dalik and Heider are members of Philly’s Young Advocates of Planned Parenthood, a sort of junior edition of the venerable, and perpetually threatened, reproductive-rights advocacy group. Heider, who works in P.R. at a local law firm, is a relative newcomer, having recently signed on to help YA co-founder Dalik, a communications associate at a local university, publicize this Saturday’s third annual gala, “Swing Into Spring.” Held at the William Way Community Center, the event costs just $30 for individuals and $50 for couples with tickets purchased in advance — far more affordable at their stage in life, the women point out, than traditional fund-raising galas. There will be swing dancing, a swing dance instructor for those who need to learn the moves, and drinks and food from Young Advocates supporters like Yards Brewing, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans and Insomnia Cookies. It’s not black-tie; you can wear what you like, even jeans. There are raffles for prizes that include gift cards, yoga classes, dance classes, theater and opera tickets, even an autographed photo of the 76ers. The event is open to the public, not just to members. “The people who come are not all crazy feminists,” Dalik promises. “There’s a photo booth, special guests — it’s like your high-school prom, but with alcohol. A night out with like-minded people.”

When it comes to abortion, like-minded people can be hard to find. “I was always pro-choice,” says Heider, “but privately. Most people are. They’re not very vocal about it. The pro-life people are very vocal, and very willing to fight to restrict my rights. I want to take it back. I’ve worked to normalize discussions of abortion in my circle of friends.”

Heider notes that Planned Parenthood is about much more than abortion. (Both she and Dalik add that they’re speaking on their own behalf, not as representatives of Planned Parenthood.) “We need to focus on the other 97 percent of what Planned Parenthood does — to make sure people don’t have unplanned pregnancies, through sex education, and to provide education about STDs.” Heider mentions that she serves as a mentor to a girl in Oklahoma whose sex education in school has consisted solely of the promotion of abstinence: “She didn’t know even the basics. The resources of Planned Parenthood are so important, even online.”

Dalik recalls taking a bus to a pro-choice rally in Washington, D.C., and realizing with shock that all her fellow bus riders were boomers: “I asked one woman how she got involved in Planned Parenthood, and she said she’d had friends who had back-alley abortions.” That generation, she notes, still remembers when abortion was illegal. “Our generation never lived through that time,” Heider adds. “They don’t feel that passion.”

The Young Advocates are working to connect a new generation to the cause, holding events and training sessions at venues including Tattooed Mom and Fox & Hound, sponsoring showings of films like Trapped and Vessel, and joining with other groups — Medical Students for Choice, the Women’s Medical Fund, Women’s Way — in the fight against anti-abortion legislation like H.B. 1948. “People don’t realize how strong the pro-life movement is,” warns Heider. “If they said, ‘We’re taking away your birth control’ — then you’d see it.” But neither she nor Dalik intends to let it get to that.

For tickets to “Swing Into Spring” and more information, go here