THE HEAD OF NARAL ON WHY IT’S NOT STRANGE THAT SHE’S PREGNANT
September 25, 2015
Grantee News From NARAL Pro-Choice America:
Ilyse Hogue has made it her mission to reveal the links between the right to choose and just about every other right Americans hold dear—and it’s a cause that has become as personal as it is political.
When Ilyse Hogue got the offer to lead NARAL Pro-Choice America nearly three years ago, she consulted her cabinet: the handful of colleagues who’d guided her from the beginning of her swift ascent in the lefty political world, from an organizer turned program director at Rainforest Action Network to a macher for moveon.org. Not all of them were encouraging, to put it mildly. “You’re not going to take it, are you?” asked one of her primary mentors, a man Hogue describes as a “sixty-something stalwart in the progressive movement.” He went on: “Why would you relegate yourself to that?”
It wasn’t just abortion that put him off, but the whole pink ghetto of so-called women’s issues. “MoveOn was a guy’s game—technology and politics,” says 44-year-old Hogue. “He was like, ‘You don’t have to work on women’s issues—you’ve proven you can work on issues that affect everyone. Why would you move backward, where women only go if they can’t make it in the men’s world?'”
Of course, Hogue wouldn’t have been polling her cabinet if she hadn’t been having her own misgivings: “Do I really want to be the ‘Abortion Lady’?” she’d asked herself. “I’ve done so much in my career, and if I am the Abortion Lady—will I always be the Abortion Lady?”
Faced with the fear that heading up NARAL would take her out of the big leagues of Democratic policymaking and politics, she experienced what second-wave feminists call a “click.” “He forced me to articulate the opportunity, which I could feel in my bones,” Hogue says. “There’s a wave happening in this country. I fundamentally believe that when women have autonomy and equality and make our own informed decisions, particularly but not exclusively around when and how we have families, it’s not just that we do better, society does better. If I can make a difference in that conversation, everything I’ve worked on in the past benefits from it.” By the end of the meeting, America had a new Abortion Lady.
Hogue’s click has become the core of her philosophy at NARAL: the conviction that the right to abortion is central to gender and socioeconomic equality, freedom, our nation’s prosperity, robust mental and physical health, the strength of families—everything America holds dear. Spend time in her company, in fact, and you discover she can bring almost any conversation around to abortion: immigration, Obamacare, minimum-wage laws, education policy, rape in the military—all family-planning conversations!
Hogue has a warm, chummy physicality and practically vibrates with energy. One morning when I met her last spring, she was bustling around her office, preparing to spread her broad-based message during a long day of meetings and lobbying—starting with a sit-down with Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin and wrapping up with a planning session for Men for Choice, a group she started to bring men into the abortion conversation. This is a quintessential Hogue tactic: getting people talking. Her forte as a strategist, according to colleagues past and present, is her ability to make the public connect emotionally to an issue—whether it was getting large banks to come together in the early 2000s to sign a pact to evaluate the environmental impact of their investments; making corporations think twice about making big political contributions (post–Citizens United) by inspiring flash mobs to protest Target’s support of an anti-gay-marriage candidate; or persuading R.E.M. to donate the rights to its song “You Are the Everything” for one of the most moving ads of the 2009 health-insurance debates. More>
From Anguish to Balance