Originally published May 10, 2012
Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, has decided to leave her post at the end of the year. She believes that younger leadership is needed at this time.
In Keenan’s view, there is not that same level of passion defending abortion as there is opposing it, and in large part that may be because women of her generation cannot properly relate the need to the group known as “millennials” – women born between 1980 and 1991.
NARAL is 43-years-old, and for the past three years have been using surveys and focus groups to understand young voters. The group hopes to unveil its new campaign to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in January.
They may have been asking the wrong people the wrong questions. NARAL should have been asking women my age and older what they think.
Younger women don’t remember the world before Roe v. Wade. They don’t know about the women who died of illegal abortions, the women who died with their babies because their pregnancies were lethal, the women who were permanently maimed in illegal abortions. They don’t understand illegal abortion at all. They don’t understand what it means that a half-million illegal abortions were performed in Argentina last year, a country of only 40 million people where birth control is still a new concept. We oldsters are the only link younger women have to why the right to an abortion is just as important as the right to birth control. We stand in testimony to that need. We had relatives or friends who died, knew women whose lives were destroyed when they were just teenagers by having to give birth to their own father’s child, witnessed the battle over the thalidomide babies and those few women who could afford to go to Europe for an abortion. We know the emotional pain and guilt an abortion can cause, particularly if it is delayed. We know it is not a cavalier decision to improve life-style, but a heart-wrenching choice made in desperation. We understand that the current climate of reducing assistance in social programs is going to make things even more desperate and make more women feel they have no choice but an abortion, and if they cannot get those abortions legally, they will try to self-abort or find an underground abortionist. We know that the delays caused by trying to find and pay for an illegal abortion really does kill babies, viable babies.
We understand that we should not just be fighting for the right to an abortion but for all those things will make abortion less necessary – birth control that women can afford, family planning services, factual and thorough sex education, all those things that are just as much at risk as the right to an abortion.
Removing older women from the mix removes our knowledge and that is an unacceptable loss. Younger women need to know why we must fight for this right, and only those of us who were there at the beginning can explain it.