You Do You
Using a Personal Freedoms Narrative to Drive Support for Abortion Access in Louisiana
Young adults are civically engaged and active in fighting for racial justice, climate change, and accessing affordable healthcare but are less engaged with the fight to protect abortion access. With a Supreme Court threat to Roe v. Wade on the horizon in 2022, Gen Z and young millennials are likely facing a ripple of statewide abortion bans that would imperil their right to safe, legal abortions. To prepare for a world without Roe, it’s important to invest in a long-term communications strategy specific to younger Americans that connects abortion access within their existing set of values.
In 2020, RALLY was honored to receive a grant from The Packard Foundation to investigate whether we could shift the reproductive health narrative for a particular audience to a more values-based approach for the state of Louisiana. We focused on how to communicate about abortion access in a state where, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 94% of counties had no abortion clinics. Informed by grassroots organizers and reproductive justice advocates both nationally and across the Gulf Coast, our work shed light on the following insights that can help advocates communicate to Gen Z and Young Millennial audiences, particularly those who don’t support abortion rights but share a value set with their generation that provides an opening for discussion.
Education leads to activation.
The key to persuasion lies both in education and tapping into the values that activate younger adults. To prioritize protecting abortion access, young audiences must be educated on the disparities and barriers to access that exist using language that situates abortion access within their existing value set. Across our survey with young adults in Louisiana, we heard that if young people knew how restricted access in Louisiana was compared to other states, they would feel a greater sense of urgency to protect abortion access. Messaging that educates young people on the current state of abortion restrictions and that connects abortion access to generational values provides touchpoints for an audience to become not only engaged, but also informed as they prepare to advocate for their right to access reproductive health care.
Any messaging campaign targeting young adults must also provide context around abortion access barriers and legislative challenges statewide and nationally, as not all youth are aware of these barriers prior to engaging with messaging.
“Some Gen Z youth aren’t informed on abortion, but once you tell them the information and problems and they see what’s there (in terms of restrictions), they’re confident making a pro-choice stance” — Cassidy Clark, Gen Z Peer Educator and Organizer, New Orleans Abortion Fund
Emphasize abortion access as a personal freedom.
In our research with young adults in Louisiana, pro-abortion access messages that framed abortion as a personal freedom resonated for audiences across the traditional political spectrum. Because young adults have little trust in institutions and systems, they have both an allergy to being told what to do and an incentive to remake and reimagine systems in a way that benefits individuals. This allergy is reflected in the chart below, where protecting abortion access ranks at the bottom of the social issues tested in our survey, protecting individual freedoms ranks at the very top.
By framing abortion as a personal decision — and explicitly stating that starting a family or choosing abortion are equally valid decisions — young adults see abortion as an individual decision to make. For example, personal freedoms resonate with more conservative-minded young adults, because it represents freedom from anyone’s influence, including the government’s — a traditionally conservative idea. The adaptability of personal freedom messaging to audiences across the political spectrum makes it a helpful touchpoint when communicating to young audiences because it creates an opening to talk about the need to protect personal freedoms in a way that connects with an audience who doesn’t prioritize abortion access and might hold faith-based concerns.
“I feel that personal freedom is important and that the government shouldn’t be able to dictate our every move.” — Age 21, Female, White, Louisianan
Frame abortion access as an issue of bodily autonomy.
As a generation coming of age during the #MeToo movement and Brett Kavanaugh judicial hearings, young audiences feel that only they know what’s best for their health and their bodies. While abortion is often covered as a political issue, sexual violence is often discussed in a less politicized way. Reframing abortion access in the context of bodily autonomy and consent can move young adults away from thinking about abortion in a politicized sense and toward talking about abortion in the context of personal boundaries.
The idea of having power over your own body and a right to consent emphasizes a shared understanding among young adults across the ideological spectrum that it’s not okay for someone to tell you what your personal options are when it comes to decisions regarding your health and your body.
“Even though I don’t encourage abortions, and I don’t think I could ever have one, I absolutely think women should have the choice. This image to me represents taking away the control of a female’s body, which is terrifying.” — Age 21, Female, Hispanic/Latina, Louisianan
The personal freedoms messaging frame provides space for individuals who would not seek an abortion themselves to advocate for their peers to continue to have access. The personal freedoms frame is not limited to the individual — it’s also affording Gen Zers who lean conservative to understand that while they may not want an abortion for themselves, their peers may want abortions, and should be able to access the reproductive health treatment that they want. Individuals can personally be anti-abortion, but can engage with this messaging frame because they understand abortion’s importance to those who seek it.
Understanding how to move the “movable middle” is a key component of driving a generation towards abortion support over their lifetime. We are committed to the long-term fight, working with critical organizations that understand their audiences and how to move them.