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Some of these leaders and their similarly aged deputies have been reluctant to pass the torch, according to a growing number of younger abortion-rights activists who say their predecessors are hindering the movement from updating its strategy to appeal to new audiences. This tension had been brewing for years, but in 2010, Keenan told Newsweek that she worried that the pro-choice cause might be vulnerable because young people weren't motivated enough to get involved. The complaint struck young activists like Steph Herold, 25, as an effort to place blame on others for mistakes the establishment pro-choice movement has made along the way. "They are the generation that gave us legalized abortions, but they also screwed up," says Herold, pointing to the pro-choice establishment's failure to stop the 1976 Hyde Amendment, a law that prohibits federal funding of abortions and disproportionately affects poor women. At a conference last May, Herold heard a women's-clinic owner who has worked in the abortion field for some 40 years echo Keenan's complaint--that young people aren't involved enough in the pro-choice movement. Herold was furious. She stood up and, trembling, walked to a microphone. "We're counseling your patients and stuffing your envelopes," Herold told the clinic owner. "You should be talking to us and not just about us."
The power struggle isn't based on differences over the right to access abortion. Young activists fighting for reproductive rights have the same hard-line view of abortion access as their predecessors: they say it should be unrestricted by state governments and that the decision to terminate a pregnancy should be left solely to women and their doctors. But the infighting could splinter the movement if the younger generation abandons those feminist institutions that have traditionally been the headquarters for voter-mobilization campaigns, fundraising and lobbying, the lifeblood of any political movement. Erin Matson, 32, became a vice president of NOW in 2009 but recently resigned. "When you want to build a jet pack, sometimes that means you have to leave the bicycle factory," she says.
Matson says she is considering starting a new organization to specifically target young people. "A number of young women are just saying, 'To hell with it, I'm just going to lead,'" she says. "It's easier for young women to exercise leadership right now than before we had this technology." The technology Matson refers to is the Internet. Last February, when the Susan G. Komen breast-cancer foundation eliminated its long-standing grant funding for Planned Parenthood, a backlash quickly ensued on Twitter. Under tremendous pressure, Komen reinstated the funding. After the episode, says Herold, "No one can say anymore that young people don't care about this issue."