Meaningful Youth Civic Engagement: A Silver Lining of 2022
In Post-Roe America, young people across the country have shown up at a tremendous, historic rate; they deserve a seat at the table.
One step forward, two steps back. As the familiar idiom suggests, 2022 marked both inspiring moments of progress and monumental setbacks in the United States, especially where civic engagement and reproductive rights are concerned.
As part of our mission to advance girls’ rights and opportunities, Girls Inc. advocates for access to comprehensive sex education and safe, high-quality reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion services. The June 2022 Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade – the half-century-old precedent that ensured the Constitutional right to abortion – left abortion access in the hands of state legislatures.
Reports affirm the rise in state-level abortion restrictions are especially harmful for teens, and even more so for youth of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+ youth, those from low-income families, and especially those for whom these identities intersect. Disproportionate impacts on marginalized youth drives lower access to high-quality, confidential, unbiased, and nondiscriminatory sexual and reproductive health care services. The harmful and dangerous Supreme Court decision also means that “young women today will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers.”
So where’s the silver lining? The ruling triggered young voters to turn out to the polls in droves five months later, having a major impact on the 2022 midterm elections. Nearly 30% of young adults (ages 18-29) voted, marking the second-highest youth turnout in three decades. And while young people care deeply about a wide range of issues, abortion was their number one concern, with 44% of young voters calling it the most important issue determining their vote. Furthermore, 53% of women voters said the overturning of Roe v. Wade had a major impact on which individual candidates they supported.
Young voters also facilitated historic wins for representation, setting records in terms of winning LGBTQ+ candidates (340+), women in state legislatures (32.2%), and women in Congress (28%). Critically, young people turned out despite increased barriers to voting. In the 2022 midterms, states added complicated ID laws, changed laws mid-election cycle, and limited early and mail-in voting. There is both an extraordinary need and potential to protect youth participation in voting, to ensure all young people’s voices are heard in our democracy.
Thankfully the Biden-Harris Administration agrees. In December, Girls Inc. was invited to the White House Youth Communities in Action Forum to discuss the most pressing needs for young people and how to keep youth involved in the policy decisions that impact them. Senior White House Officials and Second Gentlemen Douglas Emhoff (pictured below) briefed participants on a variety of relevant issues: reproductive rights, voting rights, climate change, gun violence, and racial equity. With other organizations, Girls Inc. provided recommendations for how the Biden-Harris Administration can work collaboratively with young stakeholders on the issues that matter most to them, and make it easier for youth across the country to meaningfully engage in the decision-making process.
As we enter the new year, Girls Inc. continues to advocate for the rights of all youth and push back on policies that seek to limit their control of their own lives. And as we uplift the voices and needs of the girls we serve, we welcome the Administration’s continued investment in providing young people across the country a much-deserved seat at the table.