NARAL president Nancy Keenan, who rocked the house on Tuesday night with her speech at the Democratic convention, is a former Montana state legislator and a Superintendent of Public Instruction in the state. She worked her way through college at a local smelter before getting a Masters in education and going on to teach children with disabilities. She announced in May that she was leaving the organization, but took some time during a busy Democratic convention to chat with Raw Story about the Republicans’ sudden moves on reproductive choice.
Raw Story: Why are you here at the convention?
Keenan: A couple things. One, obviously the issue of choice is huge in 2012 and very different than it was, quite honestly, in ’08, and I think that has everything to do with… Well, we predicted after the 2010 elections that there would be an all-out attack on women’s reproductive rights and there was a bait-and-switch going on. They were talking about, “Oh, jobs, jobs, jobs,” they arrived, and bingo: the Republicans went right after women’s reproductive rights.
So this year, probably more than any year I have seen, we have a pro-choice president who has stood with us, so we’re here to stand with him. We have a pro-choice president that understands that politicians don’t belong in this decision and I think that he cares very deeply that the next generation of women.
Young women particularly, and young men, but young women particularly understand that you have to be vigilant about the issue of protecting this freedom and privacy.
Raw Story: Do you think that at some point that women, or even particularly young women, took it for granted? That they weren’t involved enough?
Keenan: No. Look, my generation, the baby boomer, the pre-Roe generation, fought to make sure that the next generation of young people didn’t have to worry about this. That was our goal and, in essence, we succeeded. I think young women are very involved with this issue, we have a lot of young leaders and activists that are involved with protecting this right today.
The broader question for young women was when they went after contraception, and that was much different than just attacking abortion care. And it was like, “We’ve been talking that they were after all of it,” that they were going to eliminate coverage for birth control, their whole issue around abstinence-only sex education. So we knew it, but it was never elevated to the point that it has been the last couple of years, especially around health care and their attacks on contraception.
Raw Story: The anti-contraception wing of the anti-abortion movement has been bubbling along for a while, but it’s suddenly become really ascendent. What would you attribute that to?
Keenan: When we had the debate in this country around health care and what Obamacare really actually provided women in this country, from pre-natal and maternity care to making sure you didn’t have to have a co-pay for birth control, it was in the context of that broader health care debate that the birth control issue percolated up and we really saw the agenda that they had — not only to outlaw abortion in this country, but to make sure that birth control was not available, especially not available under your insurance plan where you didn’t have to have a co-pay. That’s an economic issue for women, young women. At $40 a month, now not to have a co-pay is a big advantage for young women economically.
Raw Story: The ability to control one’s reproductive choices in general is a big economic issue, isn’t it?
Keenan: Absolutely, when and whether or not to have a child, and that decision is up to the young women and families in this country. Absolutely it’s all an economic issue. And, again, fundamentally — and I think that’s where you draw the contrast between the Republican platform and the Democratic platform — it’s that it talks about where that decision is rightfully made, it talks about the freedom and privacy that we have as women in this country, as protected in this country, and it’s the Democratic platform saying that decision is rightfully left to a woman, her family and her doctor and not politicians.
And as you’ll hear, but with politicians who might not even know how the female body works, it’s pretty scary that these guys are the ones who are trying to make laws and regulations about our reproductive health and don’t even know how it all works.
Raw Story: It seems to make a certain kind of sense, though, doesn’t it? That the ones who don’t know how it works are the ones who want to pass laws about it that don’t make any sense?
Keenan: We always said the same thing is around their agenda with abstinence-only. Facts are taught in schools, and values are taught at home, and I think that most Americans share that broad philosophy. Tell the kids the truth, teach them to be responsible and if we can have a place that we have fewer unintended pregnancies, it’s a better world all the way around.
Megan Carpentier is the executive editor of Raw Story. She previously served as an associate editor at Talking Points Memo; the editor of news and politics at Air America; an editor at Jezebel.com; and an associate editor at Wonkette. Her published works include pieces for the Washington Post, the Washington Independent, Ms Magazine, RH Reality Check, the Women's Media Center, On the Issues, the New York Press, Bitch and Women's eNews.
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