The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
Belle Gage’s activism began the day she found out about her great grandmother had an abortion while blindfolded in alley.
So in 2019 when an anti-abortion bill proposed in Gage’s home state of Missouri was temporarily blocked because of the 17-year-old’s successful protest, victory tasted all the more sweet.
At the time of the Missouri bill, similar proposals took off in Ohio, Georgia and Louisiana. All the bills began with banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat was detected—but Missouri’s was amended in Senate to ban them past eight weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest. Three months after HB126 was signed into law in Missouri, a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional.
“It just felt so unfair,” said Gage. “I couldn’t help thinking about the people close to me who could potentially be in harm’s way due to new laws.”
As soon as news about the bill began circulating, Gage reached out to her networks and soon she had 300 people on a GroupMe interested in rallying. A week later, a thousand people—students, state representatives, concerned voters—gathered at Union Station in St. Louis.
Pictures and videos of the rally flooded social media as students used their virtual platforms to spread awareness, and leaders spoke to the press about their efforts. Gage and other teen leaders invited speakers that would bring attention to who an abortion ban disproportionately affects, shifting the language to be inclusive of gender-queer, nonbinary and trans people.
At school after the rally, she got some pushback from her classmates.
“I can understand why people would vote pro-life, but when you look at the fact that bans aren’t actually preventing abortions, I can’t see a reason to pass these laws,” Gage said.
According to the World Health Organization and Guttmacher Institute, the lowest abortion rates occur in Western and Northern Europe, where abortion is accessible with few restrictions. In Africa, where abortion is illegal under most circumstances, the incidence rate was 29 abortions for every 1000 women between the ages of 15 and 24, one higher than the less prohibitive Europe. Accessibilty also correlates with safety: South Africa’s liberalization of abortion laws dropped the rate of infection from abortions 52 percent.
Although HB126 did not go into effect, the fate of reproductive rights in America is still at risk.
“Missouri is yet another state that is trying to bait the Supreme Court to potentially overturn Roe v. Wade,” Barabara Baumgartner, Washington University women and gender studies professor, said.
Gage continues to do her part to keep young people engaged in the issue, even during a national pandemic. The issue is too important for her to drop.
Even before President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, the right to reproductive choice and medical privacy was the single biggest issue at stake for women’s lives and health in the 2020 election and beyond. Now, staring down the barrel of a possible far-right shift in the Court’s balance of power—and with health care and abortion access on the line—the stakes of this year’s elections could not be higher.