NARAL and Coathanger Chafee
I’ve always been a big NARAL supporter, and I recognize that they do their job under tremendous and constant pressure from the right. Many Democrats are abandoning pro-choice values in order to seem less "liberal" despite the fact that most Americans want abortion to remain legal, which can only be attributed to the money and organization devoted to fanatically opposing their efforts. I believe in NARAL, I think they do valiant work. I give them money, I’m a feminist and I won’t vote for a candidate who is anti-choice, period.
But something went horribly wrong with the Samuel Alito nomination:
"NARAL Pro-Choice America surpassed its fundraising goals in the hours following Justice O’Connor’s announcement," said President Nancy Keenan. Donors "are deeply concerned that President Bush will choose to further divide this nation by nominating a radical right-wing conservative."
Moderation is not the tone of fundraising appeals in the nomination contest. "This is big, people. Huge," NARAL wrote to supporters. "It’s true, there is no freedom without choice. Without choice, we are not free."
Despite the fact that NARAL was whipping their membership into a checkwriting frenzy over the matter and money came flooding into their coffers for the express purpose of fighting this particular battle, NARAL waged no aggressive campaign against his confirmation. Over at MyDD, Matt Stoller gives an idea of what a true campaign would have looked like, but we saw nothing like that. Perhaps they thought the battle was already lost and not worth fighting, but they don’t appear to have been telling people this when they were pumping them for money.
The fact is that Alito’s elevation to the Supreme Court tips the balance inexorably toward the right, and yet in response NARAL sat on the war chest they had collected for the purpose of opposing him and did next to nothing. I was among those who defended NARAL’s decision to support Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island over his anti-choice opponent. I thought it was a bold strategy to tell timid Democrats who were afraid to commit themselves to the pro-choice cause that they better think twice about sucking up to the fundies. I don’t think NARAL owes anything to the Democratic Party if the party does not support them, and it certainly owes nothing to Democratic candidates who refuse to defend their cause. But when the cloture vote on Samuel Alito was taken and Lincoln Chafee knuckled under and sided with the forced birth brigade, it was high time for NARAL to cut Chafee loose.
NARAL’s Bush v. Choice website made no mention of the cloture vote on Monday, surely the biggest blow to the pro-choice cause in this country since Roe v. Wade was decided 33 years ago. Yesterday after the final vote there was a weak statement by NARAL president Nancy Keenan who said:
This persistent assault on our freedoms will not go unnoticed by an American public that overwhelmingly supports a woman’s right to privacy as guaranteed by Roe. We intend to mobilize these voters to elect a president and senators who will defend and protect our personal freedom and individual liberties.
They did not bring up the fact that they continue to endorse a man who just voted against the protection of those liberties over two other pro-choice candidates who would not have done so.
Their readers, however, noticed. From Katha Pollitt, in their comments:
NARAL can start by NOT endorsing pro-choice Republicans. As the Alito roll call shows, when their party calls, they obey. Even supposedly feminist "republican for choice’ Olympia Snowe. If the pro-choice republicans had backed the filibuster, Alito would not have been confirmed today. Whatever their private beliefs about women’s reproductive rights, they are soldiers in the wrong army.
(Note: Pollitt’s comment has now been scrubbed from the website but I contacted her and she confirmed that she did, in fact, leave it.)
Chafee’s opponent, Sheldon Whitehouse, sent him a letter challenging him on the Alito nomination:
In 2000, you pledged that you would never support a Supreme Court nominee who would put a woman’s right to choose at risk. You failed to honor that pledge by supporting John Roberts. Now, the Alito nomination presents an even greater threat — and it’s clear that keeping this nominee off the Court will demand not only a simple "No" vote, but a filibuster as well.
As I travel throughout Rhode Island, I have heard the extreme concern that people have about the direction that President Bush and your Republican leadership are taking this country. This nominee is likely to tilt a narrowly divided Supreme Court in an extremely conservative direction. I hope that you will support a filibuster in order to keep your promise to the people of Rhode Island.
Instead of holding his feet to the fire, NARAL allowed Chafee to slither out by voting in the final vote against Alito, knowing full well this was a hollow gesture. Chafee pledged his loyalty to the Gang of 14 who collectively blocked the filibuster and effectively guaranteed Alito’s confirmation. When the true test of loyalty presented itself, he chose to abandon his pro-choice friends and knuckle under to the Bush junta.
There are three more years of George Bush’s presidency left to go, and the chances that another of the aging Supreme Court justices could vacate a seat is not remote. One of the best hopes of putting a pro-choice Senator in office who would not bend to fundamental extremists the next time around is in the progressive state of Rhode Island, and yet NARAL will not even address the concerns of its own membership on this front.
I tried to contact them to discuss this. I was told that a cloture vote would "probably not have a significant impact on an endorsement." (Since that time their PR person who handles blogs has contacted me to say she is not able to speak for NARAL. I asked to be put in contact with someone who could speak for them, but nobody has contacted me.)
NARAL does much good work on behalf of the pro-choice movement, but their endorsement of Lincoln Chafee only serves to guarantee that people who will vote to confirm anti-choice judges will retain their majority in the Senate. Women bloggers like Roxanne and Amanda have been calling for NARAL to cut bait with Chafee since he supported John Roberts, but to no avail. As long as they continue to cling to this disastrous policy they are not doing their job as stewards of the money that hard working people across the country entrust them with to carry on the battle on behalf of reproductive rights.
NARAL needs to withdraw their support of Lincoln Chaffe, an endorsement that could tip an extremely tight race, and they need to do it now. To do anything else is to betray their own cause and undermine the very woman they purport to defend.
You can contact NARAL and tell them your membership is contingent on withdrawing their support for Lincoln Chafee and other Republican candidates willing to sacrifice the pro-choice cause in their loyalty to the GOP agenda:
NARAL Pro-Choice America
1156 15th Street, NW Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005
Main Number: 202.973.3000
Main Fax: 202.973.3096
You can also contact these major donors who give significant funding to NARAL and let them know there are serious questions about this endorsement that NARAL refuses to address:
Open Society Institute
400 West 59th Street
New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.
(no longer contributing to NARAL)
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
300 Second Street
Tel (650) 948-7658
Fax (650) 917-0546
Michael Finley, President
Turner Foundation, Inc.
133 Luckie Street NW
Atlanta, GA 30303
Free fax service here.
And for those who have emailed me expressing anger about the NARAL donation envelopes they continue to receive in the mail, I suggest you write NO MORE MONEY FOR COATHANGER CHAFEE across the back and return them.