Motherhood, faith, and authenticity are not your stereotypical reasons for choosing abortion. Yet a recent case study of online abortion storytelling found that these reasons predominated over appeals to rights. Though some women mentioned bodily autonomy, more stepped out of that framework towards tangible effects on tangible lives.
It’s a trend I’m seeing around me, among Millennials and Gen Z, away from rights-talk. Rights as a conversational currency are becoming weaker, as my generation’s ears perk up instead at compassion and concrete effects on people’s stories. When someone demands their rights, we ask, what for?
It’s like gardens and garden walls. We’ll try not step on anyone’s vegetable patch; but we’re doing it for the baby beets, not the wall.
Take our vaccine mandate direction. My generation isn’t asking whether our right to bodily integrity can be outweighed by the greater good of collective immunity; we skip straight over the right and debate how best to achieve the good. And as we contemplate our hate speech laws, we strategize to rout hatred and blink at freedom of expression.
Civil and political rights were never my generation’s battle in New Zealand. Our window into the lives of the vulnerable, however, is flung wide through social media, and with it daily and hourly opportunities for compassion as we see the tangible effects of debates.
But we don’t see everyone. Those very different from us still elude our social media bubbles, and often our compassion. Relying on the concrete doesn’t protect people from consequences beyond the limits of our vision—or our imagination, leaving us ill-equipped for unprecedented situations. And my generation won’t be exempt: suppose the next generation keeps our conversation frame, but forgets our causes. That was the advantage of garden-wall- like rights: though abstract, they defend many lifestyles.
Hope lies in finding that the main ingredients remain. Compassion wielded in conjunction with an expanded tolerance, a truer effort to see those different from ourselves, could motivate the protections of rights, or at least get us talking at the same table.
For now, my generation must look overseas, where those our age still fight for freedoms.
And other generations can engage us in their reasons behind the rights. We need to see those veggie patches you’re always on about. Otherwise you’re just advertising fencing.