Democrats have failed in a spectacular fashion to address the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to end the Constitutional right to abortion throughout the United States. The Democrats’ lack of anything resembling a comprehensive plan to address this public health emergency—and their cowardly failure to back any action that party operatives fear may not be successful or may be politically “divisive”—has been shameful.
In fact, the only consistent Democratic message regarding abortion and abortion rights since the Dobbs ruling has been to tell abortion supporters to vote—and to use this horrifying rollback of civil rights as a fundraising opportunity. Mass emails were sent out almost immediately to raise money to “fight back” against the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a request that rang hollow to many (particularly in Generation Z), seeing as the Democrats (with some notable exceptions) didn’t seem interested in putting up much of a fight to begin with. Harsh criticisms of the party’s fecklessness and decades-long failure to adequately defend abortion rights haven’t just come from abortion activists or the left wing of the party; even mainstream party supporters are ripping into Democrats. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez perhaps best summed up the frustration being felt by the public when she tweeted, “We simply cannot make promises, hector people to vote, and then refuse to use our full power when they do.”
By telling voters, who already turned out in record numbers in the 2020 election cycle, that the solution is to vote harder, Democrats are doing what they do best: shifting responsibility back onto voters to do the job that voters elected them to do. It is not a surprise that this passing of the buck onto the general public reached its tone-deaf apotheosis during a recent fundraising event. Speaking at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser last weekend, first lady Jill Biden placed the onus for coming up with a plan to counter Dobbs not just on Democratic voters, but on young girls. Kaitlan Collins of CNN reported on the first lady’s speech, in which she said, “So many young girls, my own grandchildren included, went up to the Supreme Court and marched. I say okay, good for you, but what are you going to do next? You feel good about yourself because you voiced your opinion, but what are you going to do next? What is your plan?”
It is particularly vile to shift responsibility for a public health catastrophe that has been brewing for half a century not just onto the voting public, but onto young girls in particular, especially considering the ways the United States treats girls. “America is a girl destroying place,” writes psychologist Mary Pipher in the 25th anniversary edition of her iconic 1994 book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, “Many girls lose contact with their true selves and when they do, they become extraordinarily vulnerable to a culture that is all too happy to use them for its purposes.”
Teenage girls in particular are looked down upon by society. We ridicule their music, movies, social media usage, and politics. “Saying that something was made for teenage girls is still an easy way to disparage a piece of music or a film or a book,” Constance Grady wrote for Vox when discussing the special place that teen girls have in our society—simultaneously treated as objects of cultural and moral obsession and societal derision. Grady points out that this juxtaposition is especially prevalent when young girls take up activism. “We laud them for their bravery in demanding change, and then we refuse to make the changes they seek. Moreover, we tend to ignore the fact that teenage girls are, after all, still children, and therefore people to whom adults owe a responsibility.”
Young girls in particular are at special risk for sexual violence. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that among women discussing their first experience with rape, 22% state that it happened before they were 12 years old, and 32% report that it occurred between the ages of 12 and 17. Teenage girls are consistently “slut shamed” for expressing their own sexual agency, which can lead directly to significant mental health challenges. A recent CDC survey highlighted the often bleak outlook that many teenage girls have on the future, with 56.5% of them reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness (compared to 31.4% of boys).
What is especially infuriating about Jill Biden putting the weight of our current crisis on young girls to make their own plan to fight back against abortion restrictions is that girls are typically less likely to be taken seriously when speaking up about their own issues. Kate Manne, in her book Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, looks at numerous ways in which the voices of girls are ignored, even when they are talking about their own pain.
“When a privileged boy or man complains that he is in pain, there is a default assumption that he is actually in pain. In virtue of this he deserves sympathy and care… This is all as it ought to be. But many people are not so fortunate. When women and girls complain of pain they are liable to be dismissed,” Manne writes.
Pipher argues that in order to protect girls from this culture that is all too willing to obliterate them, they need to be treated like the children that they are, and they need to be protected: “[Girls] need safe places where they can learn about themselves and others and where they can take risks without fearing for their lives. They need to be valued for their personhood, not their bodies.”
While the attacks on bodily autonomy being carried out by reactionary segments of society impact many groups, young girls are especially vulnerable to abortion bans. The Guttmacher Institute reports that over 400,000 girls under the age of 19 become pregnant every year, with 29% of them choosing abortion; over 7,000 girls under the age of 14 become pregnant, with over 52% of them choosing abortion. This was, tragically, recently highlighted by the case of a 10-year-old rape victim who had to cross state lines to access abortion due to a ban in her own state—an occurrence that will become all too common as the full effect of these bans takes shape.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child explains why protecting girls is something that all of society should be invested in doing: because of children’s unique inability to protect themselves. “The actions, or inactions, of government impact children more strongly than any other group in society,” the Convention explains.
The Democrats—who control two branches of the federal government—should, at the bare minimum, have a plan to protect girls and to address the public health catastrophe that is happening in the United States around abortion access. Putting the responsibility on young girls to fight back in a system that is stacked against them is unfair, unjust, and a gross failure by the adults allegedly in charge of protecting them.