Last month the National Abortion Rights Action League, or NARAL, officially re-launched its affiliate in North Carolina. With a fraction of the budget of most Washington "special interest" groups, it's the biggest, most effective pro-choice lobbying group in the country.
After this election, the group has its work cut out. While most people are aware that reproductive rights are seriously in jeopardy, and most progressives feel scared and motivated to do something, most know little about the dozens of small battles going on--the judicial nominations, the trap laws designed to close down clinics for minor code violations, the legislative and judicial efforts to legally define a fetus as a "person" under the law.
New Bush administration policies will take money from successful health care and poverty relief programs and spend it on abstinence-only sex education and marriage promotion campaigns. The administration's also trying to remove access to emergency contraception.
Now the good news: NARAL was part of the coalition that won a victory for accurate, comprehensive sex education in Wake County last month. Hours of volunteer time, tense public meetings and visits with the school board came up with a compromise that parents seem happy with. It is possible to encourage teenagers to be abstinent and teach them about birth control and STDs at the same time. During a Friday evening party for volunteers at their Chapel Hill offices, development coordinator Mike Crum, one of NARAL's two full-time staff in the state, told me about the colorful debate that took place at public meetings.
Apparently, the religious bombasity of some of the opponents of comprehensive sex ed managed to make the case for it. "At one point, I was like, 'Keep talking,'" he said of one particularly inspired speaker.
The following Sunday, a fundraiser at the Chapel Hill home of Walter and Ann Dellinger brought speakers who updated the crowd on the political situation. Walter Dellinger, former Solicitor General in the Clinton administration, talked about the judiciary and the judges that Bush has nominated--none of whom support Roe vs. Wade. Dellinger related his memory of the Clinton administration's executive order that overturned the dreaded Gag Rule originally put into effect by Bush Sr., which banned financial aid to any family planning groups that discussed abortion with clients.
And now we will find out what it means not to win. (On his first day in office, our current president signed the global gag rule back into effect.) Never before has a single party controlled all three branches of government. Choice has never been in this much danger. But instead of trying to overturn the Roe decision, which they know would be just radical enough to anger the electorate, Bushies like Trent Lott have said clearly and publicly that they will instead try to remove access to abortion rights through a dozen indirect approaches.
In the living room of the Dellingers' home, I overheard a woman asking NARAL staff how to talk to about pro-choice issues "in a way that doesn't make people's necks tense up." She laughed as she said it, but there was a pleading in her voice. After last month's election she had found out that many of her like-minded friends had voted for Elizabeth Dole out of gender loyalty, even though they seemed to know that Dole is anti-abortion and has made clear she will vote that way in the Senate. And, she went on, she's sick of her Democrat friends saying that these people are just stupid. They're not stupid, they voted the way they did for a reason, and we have to figure out why.