Nancy Keenan Stepping Down as Head of NARAL Pro-Choice America

As re-reported in The Hill (the announcement was first made in May, but I imagine reporters are really, really bored with the fiscal cliff), Nancy Keenan is stepping down from her position as president of NARAL Pro-Choice America to make room for younger women in the abortion rights movement. Keenan is concerned about an “intensity gap” – apparently, “while most young, antiabortion voters see abortion as a crucial political issue, NARAL’s own internal research does not find similar passion among abortion-rights supporters.” But it is only upon her decision to step down from NARAL leadership that Keenan has acknowledged, as she told The Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff, “people give a lot of lip service to how we’re going to engage the next generation, but we can’t just assume it will happen on its own.”

The truth is, there are plenty of young women concerned about women’s freedom. Rebecca Traister comments that at a 2009 NARAL luncheon, the crowd was told about young people today and our sparkling awareness of politics: “They’re like Roe v. What?” But in fact, there are young feminists all over this newfangled thing called the internet (and if you follow those links, you’ll learn how we’re taking our activism offline). Yes, our discussion, activism, and movements are different – but that doesn’t mean we’re not worried about our reproductive health and other traditional women’s issues (or that we don’t know what Roe is). What it does mean is that we’re not engaged with organizations like NARAL – instead, our energy is being used elsewhere, perhaps even fighting for abortion access in a different way.

The Republican “war on women” has helped engage young feminists (and those who identify otherwise) even more, but that still doesn’t mean every message about abortion is appealing, which means that not every organization is appealing, either. NARAL has 68,000 likes on Facebook. The “This is Personal” campaign, founded on September 19th of this year by the National Women’s Law Center, has 258,000 likes. “This is Personal” seeks to protect women’s rights to make their own reproductive health decisions – the same thing NARAL is doing. But the message of “This is Personal” is apparently far more motivating for young women than anything NARAL has developed recently.

Nancy Keenan’s decision to step down – or, at least, her public reason for stepping down – is an acknowledgement that during her tenure, NARAL has failed to keep young women engaged in the organization’s work. The truth is that not every organization needs to be chock-full of young women to survive and be successful. But if NARAL wants to engage young women in a more traditional method of activism, they need to come to us, because we have plenty of ways to make a difference without going to them.

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Mara Hollander

I'm a Georgetown University alum working at a market research firm in DC. I have a background in research, political polling and campaigns, healthcare politics and policy, and gender and sexuality issues. I write about sex and gender because I believe you should be able to make decisions free from predetermination by these somewhat arbitrary distinctions - and I welcome and enjoy considerate debate about whether or not they should matter!

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