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For these young Americans, abortion is personal — and complicated

Abortion rights activists protest outside the Supreme Court on June 24. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Isabel Wottowa, 21, has “been better.”

On Friday, she found out about the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade on Twitter, and immediately felt anger — which quickly turned into anxiety, she said.

Although Wottowa, who is a recent grad and hostess living in D.C., could need an abortion in the future, she isn’t worried about herself. Rather, she fears for people with less access to reproductive health care and what the decision means for the future, she said.

“Growing up, I was told that was the way things used to be and now things are better,” she said. “So being told that things are worse and they’re going to get worse is a pretty scary thing.”

Women of color will be most impacted by the end of Roe, experts say

Before Friday, younger people in America were decades removed from a time when abortion wasn’t constitutionally protected in their country. But with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the new reality — in which states will decide — became immediate. Many younger people took to social media, where they generally make up the largest share of users, to express both despair and elation.

Those younger than 30 are also arguably the most immediately affected by the decision. According the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2019, those between 20 and 29 accounted for 57 percent of all abortions. The average age that a woman has her first child is 26. And according to RAINN, 54 percent of victims of sexual violence are between the ages of 18 and 34.

Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found that Americans 18 to 29 were more likely than older Americans to say they believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances, at 53 percent. Thirty-five percent said they believe it should be legal in some cases, and 11 percent said they believe abortion should be illegal.

Kara Zupkus, a spokeswoman for the conservative youth organization Young America’s Foundation, said she cried when she heard about the ruling. “It was such a relief hearing the decision, but one I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” Zupkus, 25, said.

She’s part of an active group of young antiabortion activists who have dubbed themselves “the post-Roe generation.” And along with others, she went to the Supreme Court on Friday to celebrate the decision: “I am feeling pumped up and ready to go win in the court of public opinion, educating people and lawmakers on the realities of abortion,” she said.

Others are feeling the opposite of relief and excitement. Dominique Webb, 30, had an abortion at 17.

“I wasn’t in the position financially or mentally to bring a child into the world,” the Nashville business owner said.

She added that she doesn’t regret the decision — she didn’t feel she was ready to be a parent in high school. “I was very active in high school and knew I wanted to go to college and having a child at that age would impact that,” Webb said.

Because of the Supreme Court decision, she said she’s going to be vigilant about using condoms — and maybe even refrain from having sex for a while. She is particularly concerned about other young Black women, who stand to be among those most affected by the ruling.

“It’s already a health issue when we do give birth,” Webb said, referring to the disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality for Black women.

Steven Anderson, 20, said he has been against abortion since he learned what it was in the 10th grade. He has been following the Supreme Court opinion page online this month, and he turned news alerts on to ensure he would find out when the decision was announced.

“I hope this decision means the country will be moving in a pro-life direction,” Anderson wrote in a message to The Post.

The Massachusetts resident plans on moving to a state that has outlawed abortion, or a “pro-life state” as he refers to it, and believes that more antiabortion laws are imminent.

“I’m glad that babies will be able to have a life and the Supreme Court sent it back to the states,” Anderson continued, adding that he’s “a little concerned about potential unrest.”

Other younger Americans have complicated views on the issue. Malek Karim, 28, is a hospital IT technician who has always voted Republican. He is against abortion, he said, but he also believes the health-care system needs to be improved to support those who give birth.

“I think until women are treated equally when it comes to health-care decisions, you shouldn’t have a total ban on abortions,” Karim said.

This Texas teen wanted an abortion. She now has twins.

Others are being moved to action in case abortion is banned where they live. Tanner Ewalt, a 20-year-old living in Wyoming, said he is considering a vasectomy.

“It’s the only thing I can think of that they aren’t going to restrict that will help,” he said.

Ewalt’s partner, Arthur, is a trans man who can get pregnant, Ewalt said. While the couple takes precautions to prevent pregnancy, they’re still afraid of the risks. “My partner is going to be under even more stress than he was before,” Ewalt said.

The couple has been considering moving out of Wyoming because of issues surrounding rights for trans people, but the Supreme Court decision has accelerated that timeline, Ewalt added.

The decision is also difficult to process for some survivors of sexual violence, who now worry about what this will mean for future survivors. Danielle Germain, 23, was sexually assaulted in her sophomore and junior years of college, she said: “If I had gotten pregnant when that happened, I would’ve absolutely needed and have gotten an abortion.”

After her assaults, Germain became a more ardent supporter of abortion rights, she said. “For women who experience sexual assault, I absolutely believe they have the right to choose what happens to them after those circumstances,” Germain said. (In many states with “trigger bans,” laws do not make exceptions for rape or incest.)

Living in South Carolina, which will probably ban abortion, Germain now worries about what would happen if she were assaulted again: “The idea that I won’t have a choice scares me.”

correction

An earlier version of this article misstated Kara Zupkus’s age. It is 25, not 22.

Roe v. Wade and abortion access in America

Roe v. Wade overturned: The Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years has protected the right to abortion. Read the full decision here.

What happens next?: The legality of abortion will be left to individual states. That likely will mean 52 percent of women of childbearing age would face new abortion limits. Thirteen states with “trigger bans” will ban abortion within 30 days. Several other states where recent antiabortion legislation has been blocked by the courts are expected to act next.

State legislation: As Republican-led states move to restrict abortion, The Post is tracking legislation across the country on 15-week bans, Texas-style bans, trigger laws and abortion pill bans, as well as Democratic-dominated states that are moving to protect abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade.

How our readers feel: In the hours that followed the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Washington Post readers responded in droves to a callout asking how they felt — and why.

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