40 years after Roe: NARAL redefines for the future

Like many young women and men who are activists in the DC pro-choice
community I looked forward to the Roe v. Wade Dinner that NARAL Pro-Choice
America held earlier this month. This year was special not just because it was the
40th anniversary of when abortion was declared legal by the Supreme Court, but
because the new NARAL President, Ilyse Hogue, would make her official debut.

After much fanfare in 2012, NARAL President Nancy Keenan decided to step
down. In her stead she very much wanted a younger woman who could speak to a
younger generation of activists in a way she no longer believed she and others of her
generation could. At the dinner there was much chatter about what Ilyse would say.
What I saw throughout the dinner and heard from Ilyse and others is a recognition
of the need to change the game in the fight.

NARAL knows young people are crucial to this fight. At the dinner was the debut of
Choice Out Loud their project targeting millennials and our experience and voices
for choice. They also debuted a short film about a young anti-choice activist every
bit as committed to his work. And recently, NARAL has re-activated its campus
program too. As young people, we have taken to this fight on not only working on
political campaigns to elect pro-choice candidates, volunteering for abortion funds,
investing in clinic defense work, but also online blogging, tweeting, and facebooking
the importance of reproductive health and rights.

Ilyse, a Gen Xer who made her name in the progressive community in part because
of online strategy work, celebrated this by yelling at the dinner “Stand up if you
are tweeting during this dinner”. A bunch of hands including mine’s sheepishly (or
proudly) went up, all primarily young.

From Ilyse’s interviews since the dinner, it sounds like NARAL is gearing up for
redefining their strategy and messaging for the offense, as they should.

According to a recent article in TIME, 92 abortion regulating provisions—a record
number—passed in 24 states after Republicans gained new and larger majorities
in 2010 in many state legislatures. According to the recently debuted Makers
documentary on PBS, abortion providers nationwide have shrank by 40% in the
1980s. And it’s not getting any better.


In a recent Huffington Post interview, Ilyse expressed annoyance at repro rights
activists always having to play defense. “I think your biggest challenge and
opportunity as a movement is to not play on their field all the time, not respond to
every crazy bill, but to start to reclaim what is essentially a debate about a medical
procedure into a values-driven conversation about how women are treated in this

This sounds promising. What that exactly will look like, time will tell. But an
aggressive playbook that will help the more embattled NARAL affiliates would
be great. A plan that will help small but valiantly fighting affiliates do their job
to not only defeat legislation but introduce and pass legislation with a successful
coalition that is not just around abortion but is around ensuring access to abortion
for those who never have been able to due to numerous restrictions introduced
over the decades since Roe. Some of these restrictions are but not limited to the
Hyde Amendment, parental consent laws, to defunding Planned Parenthood,
writing Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers (TRAP), required mandatory
ultrasounds, attempts to restrict contraception access in the new health care reform,
and the personhood legislation so extreme that even voters in Mississippi to one
look at that bill and voted it down.

All of these have made the intent of the antis clear, restrict access for women, since
the real fight of overturning Roe has alluded anti-choice activists for years. Indeed
rolling as much back as possible is the next logical step.

By not only reshaping the dialogue about abortion to talk more broadly about access
to women’s health care, young women and men across the country I believe will
become more engaged with NARAL. Millennials are the most diverse generation by
race, ethnicity, sexual orientation.

Because we are so diverse, young people in particular respond to a reproductive
justice framework that not only takes into account that Roe must remain law of the
land, but we must work to ensure that the promise of Roe is available for everyone.
According to research from Advocates for Youth, millennials specifically care about
reproductive and sexual health and access to services: they are “more likely to
support to support access to abortion” within their community (68 percent support)
and comprehensive sex education (88 percent support), than any other generation.

Young people work to fight for individuals and communities having the resources
and power to make these reproductive decisions. As a friend of mine said eloquently
once: “we are fighting for reproductive justice so everyone has their reproductive

And I’m looking forward to what NARAL Pro-Choice America will bring to the fight.

Photo credit: ProgressOhio via photopin cc

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