Most of Stacia Mendoza’s friends have something they care deeply about. They go to marches and advocate on social media for their cause.
A passion for activism is a marker for Generation Z, and it’s this energy and excitement that abortion opponents sought to harness at the 2018 National Right to Life Convention in Overland Park this week.
“The pro-life movement is the thing I’m most passionate about,” said Mendoza, 17, who is from Lenexa. “I believe life should be protected, so since I’ve grabbed onto that I want to do everything I can to make myself more knowledgeable.”
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Abortion opponents have always handed on the mantle to younger members of the movement, but there might be more “zeal” to Generation Z, said Derrick Jones, co-adviser for the National Teens for Life.
“They sense the need to be involved and they have the energy and the excitement to do it,” Jones said. “It very well may be that they’re the generation that sees the change in abortion policy in the United States.”
About 50 teenagers attended the National Teens for Life Convention, which ran concurrently with the National Right to Life Convention, put on by the nation’s largest anti-abortion organization. The teen convention included workshops titled “Understanding the WHY of Right to Life,” “Relax…It’s Only an Extra Chromosome!” and “Can Social Media Save Lives?”
There isn’t much data yet available on abortion and Generation Z, those born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. The Public Religion Research Institute has found that one-third of young Americans (including younger millennials and older members of Generation Z) say their views on abortion have changed in recent years. Nearly three times as many said their views became more supportive of abortion than opposed to it.
It’s a complicated picture: While a majority of Americans say abortion should be legal, a majority also agree with the statement that “abortion goes against my personal beliefs,” according to PRRI. Equal numbers of Americans identify as “pro-life” and as “pro-choice,” according to a recent Gallup poll.
Although younger people have become noticeably more liberal on a wide array of social issues, they haven’t done so on the issue of abortion, according to PRRI.
That's something that stands out to Joleigh Little Bass, the other co-adviser for the National Teens for Life. She’s seen many younger people who are liberal on many issues, but are still “passionately pro-life,” she said.
“This issue is the issue that grabbed them,” she said. “My hope for this generation is they’ll all be that passionate and understand the issue that well.”
After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, many said the post-millennial generation would be defined by activism.
Jones said he’s seen that excitement among teenagers who attended the convention. In recent years, they’ve asked more questions and wanted to take that information back to their communities, he said.
Bass said she’s noticed other differences in the younger generation as well. They seem more compassionate, less judgmental. They seem more interested in understanding where others are coming from.
“We’ve been saying that’s what we need to be along,” Bass said. “From our generation on down, you can’t look at women who’ve had abortions and condemn them. You need to have compassion.”
Mendoza, who attended the convention with friends from her Catholic high school, said growing up with social media is another thing that sets her generation apart: They’ve grown up with the knowledge that they can reach the world with their advocacy.
“If it’s something they believe in, they’ll be there,” Mendoza said.