With nearly 20 years of experience as an elected official from Montana, Keenan took the reins of NARAL Pro-Choice America in December 2004 as the group faced numerous challenges, most notably George W. Bush's second term. In the face of tough circumstances, Nancy said NARAL Pro-Choice America would marshal its resources—the power of people, political acumen, and policy expertise—to lead charge in protecting women's freedom and privacy.
Since 2005, the organization reaffirmed its role as the leading pro-choice advocacy group on Capitol Hill, lobbying 55 votes on choice-related issues in Congress. In addition, it worked in partnership with affiliates on 4,000 choice-related state bills in the same period.
Here is a synopsis of the organization's achievement under the leadership of Keenan, her team, state affiliates, and their partners.
Advancing Pro-Choice Electoral Victories and Countering Anti-Choice Attacks
- NARAL Pro-Choice America's political program helped produce enormous gains for pro-choice forces in Congress, including the combined net gain of 44 pro-choice seats in the House and eight new pro-choice senators in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles.
- NARAL Pro-Choice America also was the first pro-choice political organization to endorse President Barack Obama's campaign and launched an aggressive voter-identification and -persuasion effort to reach key swing women voters in 290,000 households in Colorado, Virginia, and six other battleground states.
- In its 2008 post-election analysis, National Journal ranked NARAL Pro-Choice America second among the nation's top 21 political organizations for its impressive win rate among endorsed congressional candidates in hotly contested races.
- In 2006 and 2008, the organization also worked with its affiliates in four states to defeat six anti-choice ballot measures, including two successive attempts to ban abortion in South Dakota.
- After the 2010 midterm elections, which were dominated by the economy, resulted in significant setbacks for progressives, Keenan prepared her organization to be the voice of opposition to an extreme anti-choice agenda unfolding in Washington and in state legislatures. In 2011 alone, NARAL Pro-Choice America and its state affiliates channeled more than 1.1 million messages to federal and state officials in opposition to attacks on choice.
Working with Allies to Proudly Proclaim Our Pro-Choice Values
- In addition to her electoral and legislative advocacy, Keenan pioneered a values-based message framework. In 2005, in the midst of a hostile political climate, NARAL Pro-Choice America launched Prevention First, an initiative that encouraged lawmakers to focus on commonsense ways to prevent unintended pregnancies and thus reduce the need for abortion. The initiative included work on a federal bill, the Prevention First Act, which garnered support from lawmakers on both sides of the abortion debate. The majority of the legislation's provisions are now law. The American Prospect described Prevention First as "a cunning strategy" that allows "pro-choice advocates to define the terms of the debate."
- The values-based approach helped elected officials connect to the pro-choice discussion and gave them a way to speak about the issue that reached new audiences and new constituencies. Members of Congress, governors, state legislators, and advocates embraced this language. In fact, President Barack Obama reinforced this values-based message during his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. The country saw a principled pro-choice leader who stood by his support for legal abortion while outlining a vision for a new direction in this debate.
- Under Nancy's leadership, NARAL Pro-Choice America invested in and prioritized the partnership with NARAL Pro-Choice America's state affiliate network, working together to move a proactive policy agenda and counter near-record level attacks on choice.
- Nancy's work to reshape the debate on reproductive rights and protect women's access to safe, legal abortion has gained her significant attention. In 2006, she made Washingtonian Magazine's list of the top 100 most powerful women in Washington, D.C. and the Detroit News described her as both "forthright and politically savvy." In January 2008, as part of the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, Nancy delivered a speech at the University of Texas at Austin that, in addition to charting a future for the pro-choice movement, urged advocates to acknowledge the moral complexity that many Americans experience on the issue of abortion, a speech that a writer for Slate magazine described as including "the kind of language that makes people wake up and listen."
Listening and Learning from a New Generation of Leaders
- In late 2009 and early 2010, NARAL Pro-Choice America garnered national attention by focusing on the Millennial Generation, which is comprised of voters born between 1980 and 1991. This generation is the largest and most diverse in the nation's history, and its members will account for 40 percent of eligible voters in 2020.
- Keenan said the pro-choice movement must listen to and learn from this generation to understand how choice is relevant in their lives.
- As the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision approaches, the organization is laying the groundwork for a multi-year educational campaign focusing on—and led by—the Millennial Generation.