As the deafening sounds of the band Last Tuesday boom throughout the basement of a Capitol Hill hotel, teenagers with electric-blue hair or pierced brows and tattooed arms mill about. One girl pogos alone in front of the stage; the slam dancers take over the middle of the room.
Just another Sunday night punk rock concert. But these kids are wearing bright red sweat shirts inscribed with the words "I Survived" on the front and "Over 1/3 Of Our Generation Has Been Wiped Out" on the back.
"Face it," reads the black T-shirt of a spike-haired dancer. "Abortion kills."
This is the youthful, hipper face of the antiabortion movement, in Washington this week "to mourn," as they say, the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. And many among the abortion rights advocates don't look much different: They're young, they're opinionated and they're pierced. But they're here, they say, "to celebrate" the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
Three decades after the high court's ruling, which came long before today's high school and college students were born, the opponents and supporters of legalized abortion are working hard to make this a young person's issue.
Groups ranging from the Feminist Majority Foundation to the National Right to Life Committee have mobilized young people across the country to their side of the issue -- using Web sites stocked with pictures of earnest young men and women of all races and ethnic groups, along with mass e-mails, flash Internet ads, underground 'zines, campus organizers, teach-ins and activism training. Then there's the music, like Sunday's concert sponsored by Stafford-based Rock For Life and featuring Christian punk bands Last Tuesday, The Suicide of Miss Melancholy and Kavanah Star.
"This is a generation that has grown up not knowing the ravages of back alleys or botched abortions or how humiliated or degraded women were because of the lack of the right to choice," said Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, formerly known as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
"Their background doesn't lend itself to the type of vigilance to keep this hard-won right intact," she said. "Indeed, they really rather take for granted that their rights are indelible, and they need to be enlisted in protecting that right."
Abortion opponents can get down and direct, too:
"This really is your battle and fight because one-third of you are gone," said Bryan Kemper, a bearded former biker who founded Rock For Life in 1993 and affiliated with the American Life League five years later. He sports the tattooed words "PRO LIFE" on the back of his right forearm and "GOD RULES" across the knuckles of his left hand. Rock For Life has brought young men and women to Washington for the Roe v. Wade anniversary for several years to participate in concerts, prayer vigils and activism training.
Addressing the audience Sunday night after the bands had packed up, Kemper quoted a statistic often used by abortion opponents. "This is 30 years, 30 years now, and over 43 million are gone," the 35-year-old said. "My generation has pretty much failed . . . so this really is your battle."
Samantha Hammer, a 17-year-old senior at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, has accepted that challenge.
"I won't go bomb an abortion clinic or scream horrible names at women who are about to make a horrible decision," said Hammer, who persuaded her parents -- themselves abortion rights advocates -- to allow her to attend this week's Rock For Life activities in exchange for forgoing a planned spring break trip to Greece.
"But I will wear an 'Abortion Is Homicide' T-shirt," she said. "We're the ones who are going to be the decision-makers. It's that corny thing of 'We are the world, we are the future,' and it's going to happen soon."
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, along with the dioceses of Baltimore and Wilmington, Del., are co-sponsoring a rock, rap and prayer "Youth for Life" rally today, followed by a Mass, at the Washington Convention Center. The event is expected to draw 8,000 young people from the District, Maryland and Delaware.
"Our teenagers and youth look at abortion and say, 'It could have been me.' Each of them feel fortunate and blessed that their mother did have them," said spokeswoman Susan Gibbs of the Washington Archdiocese. "But you have to start very early."
Which is just what Derrick Jones did. Now 25, he is the youth outreach coordinator for the National Right to Life Committee. He said he became active in the antiabortion movement when he was in the eighth grade, and he rejects the Gen X label. He's a part of Generation Roe, he said.
But for some, there is a generation gap. Symbols that once spoke volumes to the abortion rights movement -- like the wire clothes hanger as an emblem of an illegal, dangerous abortion -- don't necessarily resonate with young people.
"At the beginning of the school year, I went into our office upstairs and I saw this button with a hanger with a slash through it," said George Washington University sophomore Annie Lipsitz, 19, who is on the board of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. The alliance is the college campus affiliate of the Feminist Majority.
"Uh, like, a hanger? Refresh me?"
But Lipsitz has attended various abortion rights education and mobilization sessions that have informed her point of view -- regardless of whether the hanger means anything to her.
"The right to an abortion is incredibly important, because abortions not done in a clinic can be so dangerous to everyone involved," Lipsitz said. "People are still going to have abortions and will seek out people who will give them an abortion. I've heard women speak about this. There's such intense fear and scariness that comes with an illegal abortion."
She, along with her fellow alliance board members, are among 400 college students from across the country who will attend a two-day leadership conference starting today that is sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation. Similar student conferences have been held previously, however not on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, said Eleanor Smeal, the foundation's president.
With the annual March for Life rally, scheduled for today, drawing tens of thousands of abortion opponents to Washington and -- for the first time since the Jan. 22, 1973, court decision -- the Republican Party controlling both the White House and Congress, Smeal said, "the right to choice is in such peril."
"In the long run, we firmly believe that it [legalized abortion] will be won or lost by this generation," said Smeal, whose organization also distributes "Girls Rock" T-shirts, not in pink but in a shade called "radical raspberry."
"College students and those in their early twenties can't imagine losing those rights," Smeal said. "But students have to be organized now, and they first need to know what's at stake. Young people will be the major wake-up call."