NARAL’s opponents are similarly trying to project a more youthful image. The March for Life Education and Defense Fund, the group behind an annual march and anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C., recently installed a younger, more media-friendly president, Jeanne Monahan, who succeeded 88-year-old Nellie Gray after she died last year.
The organization is preparing to extend its activities beyond its signature event and is considering hiring lobbyists, Monahan said. Monahan was the first full-time paid employee in the organization’s history. It has also brought on media consultants, including Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.
Such anti-abortion organizations are emphasizing advances in ultrasound technology that allow mothers to see early images of a developing fetus. And, while the majority of supporters are religious, activists deliberately avoid references to faith in their rhetoric.
Advocates on both sides of the debate agree that young adults fighting abortion are much more engaged. “The youth aren’t the future of the pro-life movement, they are the pro-life movement,” said Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List, noting that the group’s executive vice president is under 30.
Whether that has any effect on legislation in Congress remains to be seen.
Even if the Republican-controlled House revisits legislation passed in the last Congress, including a series of bills intended to cut off government funding for Planned Parenthood, the Senate will most likely stop those measures. The major battle will occur over a provision in the 2010 health care law requiring employer-sponsored health care plans to cover contraception, including intrauterine devices and emergency birth control drugs that many religious employers equate with abortion. The Obama administration has offered a narrow exemption for religious institutions, but for many activists it’s not enough.
“The administration’s stance on this violates basic religious freedom,” Earley said. “I think the thing that captures the attention of my generation is the pursuit of universal human rights.”
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.