Exclusive: NARAL President Nancy Keenan to Step Down
At the end of this year, Nancy Keenan will step down from her post as president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the country’s oldest abortion-rights advocacy group.
The 60-year-old Keenan said she is leaving out of concern for the future of the pro-choice movement — and thinks she could be holding it back.
Nancy Keenan will retire as president of NARAL Pro-Choice America at the end of the year. (Sarah L. Voisin - WASHINGTON POST) In recent years, Keenan has worried about an “intensity gap” on abortion rights among millennials, which the group considers to be the generation of Americans born between 1980 and 1991. While most young, antiabortion voters see abortion as a crucial political issue, NARAL’s own internal research does not find similar passion among abortion-rights supporters. If the pro-choice movement is to successfully defend abortion rights, Keenan contends, it needs more young people in leadership roles, including hers.
“There’s an opportunity for a new and younger leader,” Keenan said during a Wednesday interview in her downtown Washington office. “Roe v. Wade is 40 in January. It’s time for a new leader to come in and, basically, be the person for for the next 40 years of protecting reproductive choice.”
NARAL, which was founded in 1969, is in the middle of a multi-year effort to engage millennials on abortion rights. For three years, the group has used surveys and focus groups to try to better understand young voters. When the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade reaches its 40th anniversary next year, NARAL hopes to roll out a more extensive campaign.
“People give a lot of lip service to how we’re going to engage the next generation,” Keenan said, “but we can’t just assume it will happen on its own.”
Keenan has held the job for eight years, during which NARAL has lobbied Congress on 55 abortion-related votes and worked on over 4,000 pieces of state legislation. She describes herself as part of a “postmenopausal militia,” the baby-boomer activists who, as college students in the 1970s, fought for abortion rights. When the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that the Constitution protected a woman’s right to an abortion, those activists won. Today, they run many of the major abortion-rights groups, such as NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women.