NARAL Pro-Choice America /ˈnɛərəl/ is a 501(c)(4) organization in the United States that engages in political action and advocacy efforts to oppose restrictions on abortion and expand access to abortion. NARAL is often used as a short form of the name. The organization was formerly known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, then the National Abortion Rights Action League, and later the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
NARAL has an associated 501(c)(3) organization, the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, and an associated political action committee, the NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC. Founded in 1969, NARAL is the oldest abortion rights advocacy group in the United States.
The precursor to NARAL was the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (ARAL). ARAL was an expansion of the "Army of Three" which was made up of pro-choice activists Pat Maginnis, Rowena Gurner, and financial investor Lana Phelan. The Army of Three organized and distributed referral lists of illegal abortionists and held classes on do-it-yourself abortions in California.
Originally called the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, NARAL was established at the "First National Conference on Abortion Laws: Modification or Repeal?", held February 14–16, 1969 in Chicago. Its formation was announced on the front page of The New York Times. The conference, sponsored by 21 organizations and attended by 350 people, included a planning session for NARAL and the report of NARAL's pre-formation planning committee: Lawrence Lader of New York City, Garrett Hardin of California, and Dr. Lonny Myers of Chicago. Key conference speakers included obstetrician/gynecologist Bernard Nathanson (who later became a pro-life activist), journalist Lawrence Lader, and women's rights advocate Betty Friedan. The conference was split between those favoring American Law Institute guidelines—which would permit abortion only in cases of rape or incest, or to preserve the life or health of the mother—and those led by Betty Friedan and Conni Bille, favoring 'ad libitum' abortion rights at the discretion of the mother. These pro-choice advocates asserted that women should determine what was best for themselves in consultation with their physicians. The conference voted to adopt the pro-choice position.
Those agents attending the session elected a 12-person Planning Committee for NARAL's formation: Lawrence Lader (Chairman), Ruth Proskauer Smith (Vice Chairman), Ruth Cusack (Secretary), Beatrice McClintock (Treasurer), Constance Bille Finnerty, Mrs. Marc Hughes Fisher, Betty Friedan, Norval Morris, Stewart Mott, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Edna Smith, and Percy Sutton. The committee held its first official meeting in New York on February 25, 1969. It hired Lee Gidding as the first Executive Director; she opened NARAL's office in New York City on March 3.
The Planning Committee, meeting regularly between February and September 1969, defined NARAL's purpose and program, drafted bylaws to submit to the membership for approval, prepared a slate to run for the Board of Directors, and directed NARAL's activities. The Committee defined NARAL's purpose as follows:
NARAL, recognizing the basic human right of a woman to limit her own reproduction, is dedicated to the elimination of all laws and practices that would compel any woman to bear a child against her will. To that end, it proposes to initiate and co-ordinate political, social, and legal action of individuals and groups concerned with providing safe operations by qualified physicians for all women seeking them regardless of economic status.
The original NARAL program had six parts:
The Board of Directors, elected by the membership, officially replaced the Planning Committee at the first Board meeting, held on September 27, 1969. The Board elected Honorary Officers (Co-Presidents Dr. Lester Breslow and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and Senator Maurine Neuberger as Vice President), Officers (including New York City Councilwoman Carol Greitzer as President), an Executive Committee (Lawrence Lader, Chairman), and a Nominating Committee. In addition, the Board adopted a very specific program of action that focused on winning repeal in New York and other key states. Only one year after NARAL's formation, the New York state legislature voted to legalize abortion and the new law went into effect on July 1, 1970. On that day, NARAL held a medical conference at NYU Medical School to train physicians in non-hospital abortion techniques.
From 1969 till early 1973, NARAL worked with other groups to repeal state abortion laws and to oversee implementation of abortion policies in those few states that had liberalized their laws. On January 22, 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, during the first three months of pregnancy, abortion should be a private decision between a woman and her doctor, and that during the second three months state regulation should be permitted only to protect the health of the woman. To reflect the Court's repeal of restrictive laws, NARAL became the National Abortion Rights Action League in late 1973.
In 2003, the organization dropped the long form name in favor of "NARAL Pro-Choice America". In 2003, the organization launched a massive television and print campaign in order to make abortion a key issue in the 2004 elections.
NARAL is a non-profit organization, and has approximately 20 state affiliates. NARAL and its affiliates have been criticized by some other pro-choice political activists, both for supporting pro-choice former Republicans Lincoln Chafee and Michael Bloomberg and for supporting moderate or conservative Democrats.
Following the move of the organization's headquarters after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Karen Mulhauser served as the first national executive director. Her tenure ran from 1974 to 1982. The next NARAL leader was Nanette Falkenburg, who served from 1982 until 1985; Kate Michelman became the next director until she announced her retirement in 2004. Nancy Keenan, formerly the Montana Superintendent of Schools, became President of NARAL and served until February 2013. Ilyse Hogue is the current president.
NARAL Pro-Choice America uses numerous tactics to lobby for liberalized access to abortion, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. It sponsors lawsuits against governments and hospitals, donates money to politicians supportive of abortion rights through its political action committee, and organizes its members to contact members of Congress and urge them to support NARAL's positions. NARAL sponsored the March for Women's Lives in 2004. NARAL also sponsors public sex education and tracks state and national legislation affecting laws regarding abortion, women's health and rights.
In an ad featuring anti-abortion terrorism survivor Emily Lyons and targeting U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, NARAL claimed that while U.S. Deputy Solicitor-General, Roberts supported "violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber." While Roberts did argue before the Supreme Court that a 19th-century statute directed against the Ku Klux Klan did not apply to those protesting outside abortion clinics, the case in question occurred almost seven years before the bombing pictured in the ad and was entirely unrelated to clinic bombings. The ad was retracted under pressure from other pro-choice groups as undercutting the credibility of the abortion rights cause.
Late in the Democratic presidential primaries, NARAL endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. NARAL had long supported Clinton through her political career. NARAL's political committee board was divided between Clinton and Obama supporters, but eventually voted unanimously to support Obama. NARAL officials said they were not snubbing Clinton but rather acknowledging that Obama was likely to be the nominee and that there was a growing divide between black voters and white female activists. This decision caused controversy even within the organization, with major state affiliates denouncing it through statements to the press and even mass robocalls.
NARAL's endorsement sparked heavy criticism from EMILY's List, whose president, Ellen R. Malcolm, said "I think it is tremendously disrespectful to Sen. Clinton—who held up the nomination of an FDA commissioner in order to force approval of Plan B and who spoke so eloquently during the Supreme Court nomination about the importance of protecting Roe vs. Wade—to not give her the courtesy to finish the final three weeks of the primary process. It certainly must be disconcerting for elected leaders who stand up for reproductive rights and expect the choice community will stand with them."
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