On Tuesday, Roll Call ran a story about a political group striving to capture a youthful image, and in so doing, find relevance and resonance in one of the most hotly contested political issues of our age.
The group in question? None other than the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League — known to most as NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The problem that NARAL has is simple: it’s facing increasingly youthful, passionate opposition from pro-lifers. The pro-life movement has captured all the vibrant energy on the issue, and that’s something that NARAL hopes to imitate. So much so, that they’re studying young prolifers in the hopes of learning from them.
NARAL leaders have not been shy about acknowledging an “intensity” gap, making it a major theme of last week’s event. In doing so, the group placed Mark Earley Jr., a 24-year-old anti-abortion activist from Virginia, at the center of an effort to fire up members.
The group hired the public affairs firm GMMB to conduct blind interviews with activists on both sides of the issue, then singled out the University of Richmond law student’s tape as the most passionate, said Samantha Gordon, a NARAL spokeswoman. It featured the interview during the dinner “to show that passion to our audience,” she said.
Earley didn’t know he had become the face of the enemy, or even that NARAL was behind the taping, when he was contacted by CQ Roll Call. He said he didn’t mind.
“I had a hunch that it was not for a pro-life organization; I basically just figured my message would be used badly,” he said. “It is good for everyone to know that there are a lot of young people who are very serious about wanting to protect mothers and children.”
If their mission weren’t so vile, this would be laughable. NARAL is on an almost inevitable path to self-destruction. Although a recent NBC News/WSJ Poll shows that support for Roe v. Wade is at its highest point since 1989, that support isn’t unequivocal:
The shift is mostly the result of more Democrats backing the decision—particularly Hispanics and African-Americans—and a slight uptick in support from Republicans.
But the poll showed a consistent tension in Americans’ attitudes toward the decision.
Almost seven in 10 respondents say there are at least some circumstances in which they don’t support abortion.
Some 31% of respondents in the poll said abortion should always be legal, and 9% believed it should be illegal without any exceptions. Between those two opinions are the 23% who thought it should be legal most of the time, but with some exceptions, and the 35% who felt it should be illegal except in circumstances of rape, incest and to save a woman’s life.
But there’s another aspect to this story that nobody is talking about: the demographic war. Pro-lifers skew young in part because their parents — who are presumably also pro-life — have more children, to whom they pass on their philosophy of human dignity and respect for life at all stages. Members of the abortion rights movement champion contraception, small families, and abortion as a means of avoiding the “inconvenience” of a child. It’s only a matter of time, possibly even a single generation, before there are far more of us than there are of them.
NARAL is struggling to project a useful image is because NARAL itself is an organization of a bygone era. Nancy Keenan, the organization’s former president, announced that at the end of 2012 that she would soon be stepping down. The reason?
“Part of my decision was that, at 40, you have the opportunity to engage a new generation, the Millennials, because they are so huge, and that the person at the helm of this organization could reflect that youth and a younger generation,” Keenan said in an interview. “Because now the responsibility lies with these next generations to be vigilant.”
This is the same Keenan who, in 2010, came to a powerful realization:
What worries Keenan is that she just doesn’t see a passion among the post-Roe generation—at least, not among those on her side. This past January, when Keenan’s train pulled into Washington’s Union Station, a few blocks from the Capitol, she was greeted by a swarm of anti-abortion-rights activists. It was the 37th annual March for Life, organized every year on Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe. “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” Keenan recalled. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.”
NARAL is worried, and I can’t help seeing that as a good sign. Abortion is not only a religious issue. (Just ask pro-life atheists.) Things may get worse before they get better, but we have youth on our side. It’s cliche to say it, but children really are our future, and those who love children — and give them the gift of life — are going to shape our course.
(Images courtesy of Alicia Skojec Photography)