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February 10, 2011

Courageous Stories, Courageous Women: Choice Front and Center

Washington, D.C. - Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, delivered a speech marking the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Roe v. Wade at a luncheon on Thursday, February 10 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actress Felicity Huffman of ABC's Desperate Housewives served as the event's mistress of ceremonies. In addition, Huffman's husband, Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy, made a special guest appearance.

The program included a keynote address from Kamala Harris, the recently elected attorney general of California.

NARAL Pro-Choice America's signature event came as the anti-choice leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives continues to roll out attacks on women. This week, two House committees, Judiciary and Energy and Commerce, held hearings on anti-choice legislation, while the Appropriations Committee announced that an upcoming Continuing Resolution [C.R], legislation designed to keep the federal government running through the remainder of the fiscal year, will eliminate all $327 million in funding for the Title X family-planning program. About 4,600 health centers receive Title X funds to provide non-abortion-related services, including birth control and cancer screenings.

Keenan's remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

Thank you to Felicity Huffman for that gracious introduction. And thanks to all of you for joining us today.

Well, we are just over a month into John Boehner's tenure as Speaker of the House.

How's that jobs agenda working out for you?

The 2010 elections focused on economic anxiety, but Boehner and his allies are moving ahead with an extreme anti-choice agenda. They have gone from trying to redefine rape to allowing hospitals to refuse to provide abortion care to women who will die without it.

This disrespect for women is happening in the states, too.

Let me tell you about South Dakota. Politicians are moving a bill that would force a woman to visit an anti-choice "crisis pregnancy center" before she could access abortion care. Yes, these politicians would tell women they must visit an anti-abortion group before making their decision. It's likely that this bill will become law.

In Wisconsin, the new anti-choice governor has said he will seek to cut family-planning programs that serve thousands of women and men in his state.

So, the candidates who campaigned on jobs and smaller government are failing to live up to their promises. Their rhetoric doesn't match the reality.

In fact, all the politicians who are part of this agenda want government to be just small enough to fit inside our bedrooms or our medicine cabinets.

A few years ago, during an especially challenging time, a friend gave me advice that speaks to our situation: "Nancy," he said, "The strongest steel is made in the hottest fire."

Folks, we are putting out fires every day...and we are stronger for it. The challenges are not hindering us; they are motivating us. We will not allow the other side to dictate the terms of this debate. They do not have a mandate to attack a woman's right to choose.

As we engage in the battles of today, we must do so with an eye toward what is ahead 10 or 15 years from now.

In that spirit, we have embarked on ground-breaking research examining where younger people-also known as the Millennial Generation- stand on abortion rights. If you were born after 1980, we're talking about you. And you are important to us.

Consider this number. By 2020-40 percent of all eligible voters in America will be Millennials. If we want to stop the John Boehners of the future, we must invest in connecting with these young Americans now. We know that many young women and men already are acting on their pro-choice values in their communities, and many are here today. But, in addition to cultivating new activists, we have to focus on individuals who may never show up to a rally or attend this luncheon, but they will participate in our democracy.

Here's the good news: this generation is more pro-choice than the country overall. In fact, younger men are even more pro-choice than younger women. However, their experiences are different from many of ours in this room. To win the hearts and minds of this generation, we must listen to and learn from them-and that means how we talk about our values could change.

We do all of this work for one reason: We want every woman to be able to make personal decisions without political interference.

I want to leave you with one story about a courageous young woman who spoke at an event for NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire. She talked about how she and her husband celebrated the news when, after trying for some time, she became pregnant.

It was a wanted pregnancy, and they were preparing for the parenthood phase of their lives-when they received some devastating news from their doctor. Something had gone wrong. There were complications that turned their celebration into heartbreak. This wasn't an easy decision, but she and her husband decided that abortion care would be the best option for her health and to ensure that having a child in the future was still possible.

Her insurance covered this medical care, even though she could never have planned to be in this situation. This is the very coverage that politicians in Congress and the states are trying to take away from women right now.

As a result of having this right, she later became pregnant and this time there were no complications. She and her husband became proud parents. She ended her story by thanking the people in that room who fought for her right to make this decision in private and with dignity.

She is not alone-as I heard two other brave women bring members of Congress to tears this week as they shared their similar stories at press conferences countering John Boehner's agenda. These women are why we are here today.

Thirty-eight years ago, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Roe v. Wade that transformed the lives of women in this country.

In honor of the sacrifices of those who made this achievement possible, we ask ourselves this question: What history will we write? Will it be a future where we are still fighting every day to protect a woman's right to choose? Or will it be a future where the rights and decisions of all women are trusted and respected?

The one thing I know for sure is that 38 years from now, your children and grandchildren will want to know what we did when we had the chance to stand up for women's fundamental rights. They will want to know what we did when we had the chance to articulate our values to a nation that finds its natural home in our community. They will want to know what we did, in the words of Justice Harry Blackmun, to make sure that America is a nation where no woman has to be isolated in her pregnancy.

I hope they can say that, during a difficult time, we made a difference for women and their families. We helped this nation live up to its highest ideals. We helped make America become a better place.

I look forward to writing that future together.

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