Lucy Ritzmann: The Lost Rights Generation

By Lucy Ritzmann

It took me two weeks after Roe vs. Wade was overturned to truly understand what we had lost. In June 2022, I was a young political staffer living and working in a battleground state where Republican legislators quickly moved to enforce a draconian, near-total abortion ban from 1849. Two weeks after the Supreme Court took ownership of my body and every other woman’s in this country, a friend pulled me into a corner and asked me for my thoughts on going to management to renegotiate our union contract for a post-Roe world.

My mind was a total blank as to why she thought we needed to. So she explained that we needed to input a clause that would ensure that any staffer who needed reproductive care could receive time off and resources in order to drive to the nearest functional clinic, which was hours away across state lines. It was then that I first felt the fear – that feeling of being alone and stranded and unable to care for myself – that millions of American women have felt across our history and continue to feel at this very moment. 

At the time, my friend and I were both 23 years old and as elder members of Gen Z, we were wrestling with the horrific practicalities of losing a right that had been enshrined when our mothers were in elementary school. For all Gen Z-ers who had lived in some form of comfort – or delusion – believing that our most fundamental rights were secure, it felt like the mantel of misogyny was finally resting its full weight on our shoulders. 

In theory, we should have been prepared. Gen Z, as a generation, is familiar with trying to cope in times of crisis and strife. Our childhood is marked by 9/11 at its beginning and the election of Donald Trump, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the murder of George Floyd as we neared adulthood. 

Many of us are no stranger to injustice and intolerance. But the fall of Roe constituted a new and immensely distressing layer: that a fundamental right had entirely unraveled. Coping with regression – with the loss of something you thought couldn’t be taken, rather than something you know you should have but do not – is a uniquely painful challenge. America is supposed to bend towards progress, but at a young and tender age, Gen Z witnessed a nationwide snap of regression. And even more terrifyingly: we know it’s not even close to over yet. The activist Supreme Court, created by GOP abuse of government, that overturned Roe made clear that they’re coming for other rights, like birth control and marriage equality, and they intend to regress us back as far as they can. 

Because of Dobbs and the shriveling of our rights, all of Gen Z, which ranges from mid-twenties professionals to middle schoolers, is wrestling with some impossible questions: How do you begin to build your life when you can’t count on the fundamental freedoms you had been promised? Is it even remotely possible for our generation to live happily, equally, and prosperously like we were told we could? If not, how do we keep getting up in the morning?

The answer is, of course, to fight for each other and for ourselves. And that is something Gen Z knows how to do. Gen Z showed up in droves to the polls during 2020 and 2022, beating back extremists and fascists, and 8 million newly eligible Gen Z voters will join us in 2024, making our numbers 81 million strong. Even more importantly, regardless of political affiliation, Gen Z-ers vote on issues that they care about and pay little regard to party lines and partisan games. Point and case, a whopping 72% of Gen Z, Democrat and Republican alike, believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

But it is undeniable that Gen Z – and especially Gen Z women – are becoming exhausted as this national regression continues at a breakneck pace. In the past month alone, the ability to utilize IVF, a technology that has existed since 1978, has been jeopardized. It has become clear that Gen Z isn’t another lost generation – we’re the lost rights generation.

And we keenly feel the toll that this is taking on us. We know the numbers. We know that, for example, over 65,000 pregnancies due to rape have been carried to term in states where abortion is illegal in the last two years. And we all either know or are people for whom this oppression has affected. It’s no surprise then that Gen Z experiences depression and anxiety at extremely high rates, and that in 2023, more than half of Gen Z-ers surveyed reported a desire to move out of the United States. (Another key reason cited was fear of gun violence, which, of course, many pro-lifers refuse to address to actually save lives.)

I believe that Gen Z will overwhelmingly stay and continue the fight for reproductive freedoms and for all the rights lost to us. But I also believe that 2024 is a pivotal moment for us as a generation when it comes to our faith in America. As much as we try, our hope is not infinite.

We need support – and we need buy-in. We need clear-eyed acknowledgment when it comes to what we’re facing, especially from our gridlocked and largely self-interested Congress. Gen Z is staring down the barrel of the next 60-80 years where women’s bodies are not their own, AI disinformation wreaks havoc on society, and the planet burns around us. We literally aren’t even sure we can ethically bring children into this world. 

And we need investment: we need Gen Z-ers who personally understand these challenges to be taken seriously when they step up to run for office or push for civic change. The fact that our Congress is only getting older is unacceptable.

The stakes of the 2024 election are not simply those of a sane and decent human beating a madman and keeping his office for four more years. This election is about whether or not Gen Z has any faith that American democracy as it exists now can survive – and whether or not we can survive it.

A former campaign staffer and a Zoomer, Lucy Ritzmann is now the Editorial and Content Manager at COURIER and a co-author of FWIW.

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