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Free Speech & Reproductive Rights Are Deeply Connected — & Both Are On The Ballot This November

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Increased infant and maternal mortality. Maternal healthcare deserts. Legal repercussions for medical professionals providing life-saving procedures.

These are just a handful of the challenges that have come to the forefront of concerns following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, ending national protections on abortion access in the United States. In the two years since then, I, like many young women, haven’t stopped thinking about all of the chaos that has ensued because of this decision.

Reproductive rights is one of the top issues for young voters ahead of 2024, according to a Her Campus survey of college voters. And while we may think of reproductive rights as just one issue, it actually intersects with so many others that voters care about: economic freedom, racial justice, mental health, and one that I’ve been an advocate of for the past five years: free expression. 

Yes, the right to choose is inherently a free speech issue; we have to be allowed to talk about abortion and the many other facets of reproductive healthcare in order to make informed decisions about our bodies. And yet, access to information about reproductive healthcare is growing increasingly tenuous, especially in states where abortion is totally banned. Not only are some states now trying to limit education on topics like menstrual health in public schools, but even technology platforms are reportedly suppressing abortion-related speech, making it harder for people to access vital information about their own bodies. 

And if we don’t take action, this is bound to get worse. Project 2025, a conservative presidential transition iniative that banks on the return of a Trump presidency, outlines significant threats to fundamental rights, with two especially alarming plans: a severe restriction of abortions and reproductive healthcare, as well as unprecedented presidential control over the FCC, an independent agency that makes guidelines for broadcast and internet companies. Both of these measures interact to collectively undermine our fundamental First Amendment rights, control access to information, and imperil lifesaving reproductive healthcare and women’s rights. Not only that, but also, Trump has pledged to punish journalists for “dishonest and corrupt coverage” (which may actually just mean reporting facts and doing their jobs). This would make it even more difficult to access information surrounding reproductive healthcare, given that much of reproductive health news is broken by journalists.

The premise of these Project 2025 initiatives are not new. In fact, the stepping stones for it were laid out by Trump’s presidency (he credits himself with the Dobbs decision and subsequent abortion bans), and by many of the conservative-majority Supreme Court’s rulings in the past few years. Given that the next president won’t just have executive power, but may also have the power to significantly impact the makeup of the Supreme Court, our votes in November do not just decide the present, but also the future. That’s why, as a free speech, human rights, and reproductive rights activist, I urge young people to turn out to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Every young voter, no matter gender or political affiliation, needs to understand that if reproductive freedom is at stake this election, so is nearly every other fundamental human right. 

activist Pratika Katiyar
Courtesy of Pratika Katiyar

This November, nearly 41 million members of Gen Z will be eligible to vote. Yet, a 2023 Harvard Kennedy School poll showed that young voters may be less likely to vote this year than they did in 2020. This is frightening, given that Gen Z was credited as the reason there was no predicted “red wave” in the 2022 midterms, when voters in Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan overwhelmingly rejected abortion restrictions.

As a young voter myself, I know the world of politics can feel overwhelming and out of touch with reality. In my work as a journalist, I have personally reported on how young people are hesitant to vote in the election because they feel like their voices aren’t being heard. However, inaction is not the solution. We cannot afford to not show up to the polls, turn in a blank ballot, or even vote for a third party (knowing they won’t be able to overtake Trump). Though it may not always feel like the case, there is so much power in our votes and in our voices; we just have to come together and use them — while we still can.

Pratika Katiyar is a writer, activist, and winner of the Her Campus e.l.f.ing Amazing 22 Under 22 Awards.

Pratika Katiyar is a writer and activist focused on the intersections of free speech, technology, and human rights. She has been quoted and published in multiple major media outlets, including Teen Vogue, CNN, TechCrunch, and more. A fierce advocate, she spearheaded a global press freedom campaign engaging thousands of journalists and became the youngest member of the Student Press Law Center’s Board of Directors. Her widely read research covers a range of topics, from bodily autonomy to AI policy, and for her work, she has been invited to speak at the United Nations, among other notable places. Pratika is recognized as Poets&Quants 100 Best and Brightest and is on the Her Campus and e.l.f. Cosmetics 22 Under 22 list of most inspiring college women.