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What the reasons cited by the Retiring NARAL President unintentionally tell us about the future of the abortion debate

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It would be difficult to overstate the importance what out-going NARAL President Nancy Keenan said to the Washington Post in a story that appeared Thursday announcing that the 60-year-old Keenan would be leaving at the end of the year.

Keenan gave the exclusive to Post reporter Sarah Kliff, the same reporter to whom in 2010 she revealed for the first time publicly her worries about a growing “intensity gap.” (See what we wrote about that Newsweek interview at  “Even NARAL Admits There is an ‘Intensity Gap’ Among Pro-Life and Pro-Abortion Youth.”)

Keenan tells Kliff that she’s leaving out of concern she might be holding the “pro-choice” movement back.  If pro-life youth make abortion a much higher priority than do pro-abortion youth, than for the pro-choice movement “to successfully defend abortion rights, Keenan contends, it needs more young people in leadership roles, including hers.” Fair enough. Let’s look at this rationale and the backdrop.

I take her at her word. Keenan’s been at her post at NARAL for eight years and she has often poked gentle fun at the baby-boomer leadership of many pro-abortion groups as a “postmenopausal militia.” And it certainly understandable that if young people are the future—“Millennials will make up 40 percent of the electorate by 2020,” Kliff writes—cranking up intensity among young people is a must.

“Keenan questions whether she’s the right leader to reach these new groups,” Kliff notes. “’This issue has got to be a voting issue for them,’ Keenan said. ‘If we want to continue protecting abortion rights in this country, this is so clearly the case.’”

But will a younger face change anything? There are two separate questions: numbers as well as intensity. Let’s take the latter first.

NARAL talks about an intensity gap in a poll taken of 700 young Americans in 2010. “Most antiabortion voters under 30 (51 percent) considered it a ‘very important’ voting issue,” Kliff writes. “Among abortion-rights millennials, that number stood at 26 percent.”

That’s obviously almost exactly a 2-1 difference. That will get your attention.

Their all-purpose explanation is that younger women, assume the “right” to abortion, and therefore are not as motivated as the activists of the 1960s and 70s were. That is why they continually cry that the sky is falling every time the most modest, commonsense piece of legislation is proposed in order to stimulate synthetic hysteria.

Now it’s true that in the very short-term by making even something as commonplace as ultrasounds part of a “war on women,” you can rally the troops and commander an already-compliant media. But over time, you lose credibility. Charging that the requirement that abortionists use an ultrasound—which they virtually all already do—is equivalent to ‘rape’ insults the intelligence of younger women, not to mention the rest of us.

And a point missed entirely in the interview. Pro-life young people are not just found in the age range of millennials—roughly ages 18-30. Look around at rallies, at oratory contests, at the March for Life, at internship programs sponsored by NRLC affiliates, and, most of all, at pro-life camps, you will see there is entire generation of pro-life youth younger than 18!

If you have twice the intensity and lots more pro-life youth “in the pipeline,” well, no wonder Keenan hopes somebody younger can stem the tide.

There are two other points from the interview that need a comment.

First, Kliff brags up NARAL’s electoral successes in 2008. That was the year that pro-abortion Democrats did very well. However, were you to analyze the results for 2010, you would find that pro-life Republicans did exceptionally well.

In addition, EMILY’s List is the best –funded pro-abortion PAC. In 2010, National Right to Life Political Action Committee was actively involved in 130 federal races nationwide, winning 88.  Of those, twenty candidates were in highly competitive races against candidates supported by EMILY’s List.

In fourteen of the twenty head-to-head races (or 70%), the candidate supported by National Right to Life PAC won even though EMILY’s List is notorious for raising and spending huge amounts of money in their elections.

Second, according to Kliff, “States passed a record 92 abortion restrictions in 2011, more than any other year since Roe. The lesson that Keenan took away then, was that elections matter. So do the voters who will soon dominate them.”

Although NRL’s Department of State Legislation has a different and more accurate total, it is quite true that 2010 and 2011 were very good years for pro-lifers in the states. Why? Because of the enormous wave of pro-life state legislators swept into office in November 2010. Elections DO matter.

Keenan tells Kliff that NARAL has lots of ideas in mind for next year when Roe v. Wade turns 40. Fine, so do we. More important, we’re reminded in the story that NARAL was founded in 1969.

What is not mentioned—but highly relevant—is that one of the masterminds of the creation of NARAL was the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson.

Like the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade (Norma McCorvey was the “Roe”), Nathanson became passionately pro-life. The truth conveyed by ultrasounds won over this initially very reluctant convert.

That is why pro-abortionists react so hysterically to ultrasound laws: they bring the truth home in an unmistakable way.

Just as, unintentionally, Keenan does in her interview with Kliff.

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Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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