Editor's Note: The following is the text of the speech given by Nation contributor Ilyse Hogue in her first public appearance as the new president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, at its fortieth anniversary dinner, in Washington, DC, on February 5.
Thank you all for coming out tonight to show your support for NARAL Pro Choice-America, for Nancy, and for this cause that is so central to building a country worthy of our ideals.
How many of you are at a NARAL event for the first time? Stand up! That's amazing! Round of applause. Welcome!
Now, how many of you in this room have been working with NARAL and the pro-choice movement for twenty years or more, stand up. Wow! Incredible.
Such rich history in this room—and so much new energy. With that combo, how can we not accomplish great things together?
One of the reasons we have gathered here tonight is to honor the great leadership of Nancy Keenan.
For the last eight years, Nancy has steered this organization with a steady hand and a clear vision through some very challenging times for our movement. We are all indebted to her for that.
And, on a personal note, Nancy, I cannot thank you enough for the grace and love you have shown in passing this charge to me.
Transitions like these are natural moments for us to take stock, to ask ourselves—how far have we come? where are we headed? …as individuals, as a movement, and as a country. Tonight we mark the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Forty years ago, the basic freedom for women to decide if, when, how and with whom we have a family was enshrined into law.
It is unthinkable to many people today how fundamentally that changed women's lives. Before Roe, the lives of millions of bright and passionate young women were irreversibly altered because of choices they were not trusted to make. Before Roe, the leading cause of death for women of child bearing years in the United States of America was illegal abortion.
It is sobering to think how many people in this room carry memories in their hearts of lives lost too young… simply because the law didn't recognize what we know to be true—that women know best when we're ready to have a family.
I do not regret that my generation didn't experience the days of back-alley abortions. But I do regret that we don't all know the brave leaders who have fought for decades to put those days behind us. So many women have worked so hard to safeguard choice under the law. Because of them, our generations can write our own destiny like never before. We owe them all—you all—an enormous debt.
It is hard to start naming names, because I might never stop. But I do want to call out one more person: Before we had Nancy Keenan and before we had Kate Michelman, we had Karen Mulhauser to lead NARAL. Karen is here tonight and we thank you so much.
And so as we look forward from today, it's so important to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants. And our very first job is not to fall off—not to fall back into those dark days our opponents would wish on American women.