Outgoing NARAL president Nancy Keenan. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds.)
Attendees to NARAL Pro Choice America’s annual dinner last night, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, could have been forgiven if, for a moment, they thought they had wandered into the wrong ballroom.
At one point during the event, the room lights dimmed and giant screens on either side of the stage were filled with the face of a clean-cut young man who introduced himself as Mark Early. He told the camera that if he could wave a magic wand that would make Roe v. Wade disappear tomorrow, he wouldn’t hesitate. In just over a minute, the audience learned that Early is twenty-four, married, and active in the anti-choice movement. “I do think it’s possible that Roe v. Wade will be overturned and I don’t think it’s unlikely either,” he said. “I think young people will eventually come around. I want to be a part of that.”
But this was indeed the NARAL dinner—and its outgoing president, Nancy Keenan, was trying to instill a sense of urgency among attendees who perhaps felt a bit complacent after this past November’s elections. Indeed, Republicans who staked their careers on dismantling a woman's right to choose “paid dearly at the ballot box,” as Keenan noted.
But, she continued, “our opponents…will not take those losses last year sitting down…while they poured unprecedented resources into the campaigns in 2012, they were also very busy building a network of young, committed activists indoctrinated in the same anti-choice philosophy that we have fought against for the last forty years.”
And, as the video suggested, “They have a unique advantage, for they speak about change. And we're defending a right secured some forty years ago,” Keenan said.
The fact that the battle over reproductive rights is quickly evolving and changing is one reason why Keenan has stepped aside as president of NARAL, and that Ilyse Hogue, former Director of Political Advocacy and Communications for MoveOn.org, and writer for The Nation, is taking over. This was a theme hit by many speakers throughout the night—that change was good, and that hard work lied ahead.
“Nancy understands that the pro-choice movement must focus on the future,” lauded Tammy Duckworth, a freshman Congresswoman from Illinois and Iraq War veteran, in her speech introducing Keenan. “For that reason she has made the bold decision to step aside to provide, as she says, an opportunity for a new and younger leader to take the helm for the next forty years of protecting reproductive choice. Nancy knows that the future of this movement is in the hands of the rising millenial generation.”