Recently, there has been a wave of bills commonly referred to as “Heartbeat Bills” proposed and passed in various Southern states, including Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. These bills ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected within a woman, which is typically around six weeks and impose criminal sentences of up to to 10 years in prison for doctors who perform the abortions. They are essentially a blanket ban on abortion because many women do not find out they are pregnant by six weeks. The Heartbeat Bills are very controversial, and many people, activists or not, have been speaking up. A large percentage of those speaking up and voicing their opinion on the bills have been students and teens.
Very few laws and bills passed in the last decade have caused the same amount of upheaval among teens as the abortion heartbeat bills have. Using social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, teens are making their voices heard and are clashing with those who share opposing views on abortion. You may ask why the recent Heartbeat Bills have stirred up so many emotions among teens, and it is primarily for a couple of reasons.
First, the Heartbeat Bills will impact teens a great deal. As cited by Linda Lowen in her article featuring the report of Kathryn Kost and Stanley Henshaw, “in 2008, there were approximately 746,500 teen pregnancies involving young women and girls under age 20,” and the teen abortion rate was 31% nationwide that year. Therefore, many teenage women are concerned that the bills will limit their options when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
Second, as teens and students are becoming more informed and active in society, they know the consequences that these bills could have, so they want to use their newfound voice to inform other people of the potential consequences and to spark dialogue on the issue.
Third, teenagers fear that the increased regulation of the government can lead to the regulation of other issues related to personal liberties, such as birth control and privacy laws that teens rely on.
When I asked 16-year-old Divya Virmani, a rising Junior at Walton High School, for her personal opinions on the Heartbeat Bill passed in Georgia, she responded, “While I do not agree with pro-life people, I also do not believe that this bill is an accurate representation of what they stand for nor do I think that their views are properly represented in politics. The heartbeat bill, in my opinion, is a way for more control on women, not saving lives.”
Furthermore, she believes that the Heartbeat Bill will significantly and negatively impact teens in Georgia. She stated that “this bill affects teens because if they were to get pregnant in college, they should be able to have that choice of getting an abortion. A choice which our state is severely limiting. I know that for me and for a lot of other teens, abortion rights in Georgia would be a reason to go out of state for college.” She concluded by saying that, “I do not think that this bill will drastically change how many abortions will happen but rather increase the dangerous ways women have gotten abortions in the past which increases the chances of terminating the pregnancy and killing the mother. And that is not pro-life.”
Those who are opposed to the bills and advocate for teenagers having the right to abortion, including various medical experts and human rights organizations, argue that teens not having the option of abortion will lead to the decline of educational, employment, and social opportunities for young people. These missed opportunities can come in the form of anywhere from high school diplomas as teen pregnancy makes it more likely that the teen will drop out of high school to a life out of poverty as pregnant teens face higher rates of poverty. On the contrary, those who support the bills, including pro-life organizations activists, argue that the Heartbeat Bills will protect the sanctity of life and defend the rights of innocent human life because a fetus is a potential life and can grow into a fully-functioning human being.
Animosity is high between the opposing viewpoints on the bills; protests and counter-protests are erupting across the country including several large protests at the Georgia Capitol, and hashtags of #mybodymychoice and #prolifegeneration are circulating the internet, but this can be turned into something beneficial.
If teens are able to change their mindset when discussing controversial subjects with people who disagree with them, then these discussions would be more civil and they would come to a healthy understanding of each other’s opinion at the end. The desired mindset should be one where no one opinion or person is right or wrong, but rather have different perspectives and experiences. Adopting this mindset will lead to a future government and society where there is not constant gridlock in government, an increase in compromises, less polarization, and a healthier society where people who disagree with each other can peacefully coexist.
The increase in political participation of teens who are voicing their opinion is great for society and the representation of the younger generations. Teenagers and students of today have a voice that others in the past did not have, and they must use it as much as they can. The reactions to the Heartbeat Bills show that teens are becoming informed, getting involved, and speaking out about issues that affect them. Giving everybody a voice no matter age, race, or gender is necessary for equal representation in society and will lead to a better world for everybody.