Gloria Steinem, Julie Burton, and Kristina Kiehl founded URGE as Choice USA in 1992.
Our first projects analyzed the activities of the religious right in elections, and promoted electoral participation by women, young people, and people of color.
In 1997, responding to signs that young people’s support for reproductive choice had declined compared to previous generations we conducted two polls that confirmed that teenagers and young adults had come to accept many of the anti-choice movement’s premises and values. In response to this, we created the Next Generation Campaign that focused its work exclusively on teenagers and young people. In the wake of a deafening resurgence of anti-choice activism targeting young people, it became clear that there was a greater need within the pro-choice movement to increase our focus, action, and training toward developing stronger youth leadership.
In 2001, we laid the groundwork to become an exclusively youth-led and focused reproductive rights organization, creating programs that incorporated the lessons learned from our research and validated by our field experience to regain young people’s support.
URGE’s programs were tailored to engage young people whose experiences differ markedly (socially and politically) from the generation of reproductive rights activists who fought to see Roe v. Wade passed in 1973. With this understanding, URGE built a network of chapters at college and university chapters to work on local issues and wield their collective power to work together on state and national change.
After a series of anti-choice laws passed in 2004, we led the youth contingent of the March for Women’s Lives – one of the largest protests in U.S. history. For this event, URGE was critical in changing the narrative on the impact and role of young people in the pro-choice movement.
By 2010, URGE had campus chapters throughout the country, but had also begun prioritizing communities and regions that were typically underserved by other advocacy organizations. This intentional shift mirrored our ongoing commitment to prioritize and center the needs of those most marginalized in our society. In working with these individuals and communities, we saw that they were fully committed to working for choice, but also recognized that choice won’t be possible without widening our scope to include all of the other issues that impact any one person’s ability to choose.
In 2014, we decided to adopt a name that better encompassed the issues our organization was already prioritizing and the direction we were headed. After consulting with our constituency, we changed our name from Choice USA to Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity (URGE). With our new name, we continue our ongoing commitment to developing young leaders, strengthening the progressive community, and building power to advance gender equity, sexual health, and reproductive justice.