POLITICS

Ilyse Hogue, NARAL President, Is 'Tired Of Playing Defense'

02/14/2013 05:07 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2013

Ilyse Hogue, the newly tapped president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, is in some ways an unlikely pick for the role. Instead of working her way up through the ranks of the reproductive rights movement, her progressive advocacy has spanned a range of issues, from campaign finance to health care reform. But that versatility, she says, could be exactly what NARAL needs in order to reach the next generation of women.

"This fight for reproductive choice is one of the most interesting, fun, dynamic ones out there, precisely because it is being formed right now," she told HuffPost in an interview. "There is no agenda for third-wave feminism. Before Roe v. Wade, many women didn't have the choice or means to say, 'Do I want to go into government? Do I want to be a reporter? Do I want to go run Yahoo when I'm seven months pregnant?' So we're catching up. And carrying the history of this movement into defining what the new movement looks like is one of the most interesting challenges I've ever undertaken as an activist."

Hogue says she does have a few ideas about what the new reproductive rights movement should look like. As the anti-abortion movement continues to employ its strategy of "death by a thousand cuts," in which legislators, most of them Republicans, introduce bill after bill to limit women's ability to access abortion services, Hogue says NARAL will start playing offense.

"We are tired of playing defense all the time," she said. "I think our biggest challenge and opportunity as a movement is to not play on their field all the time, not respond to every crazy bill, but to start to reclaim what is essentially a debate about a medical procedure into a values-driven conversation about how women are treated in this society."

Hogue says one of her goals as NARAL president is to push for a "bill of women's rights," in addition to other pieces of state legislation to expand women's access and choices. For instance, NARAL could look at a state like Oregon, which hasn't seen any abortion restrictions in decades, and see what kind of pro-choice bills the legislature is willing to pass there.

"What we need to do as a choice movement is say, 'We're going to be here for you in what might be one of the hardest decisions you ever have to make, and make sure you have access to that decision.' But guess what? That's not where our responsibility stops," she said. "We're going be here for you when you choose to have a child, whether that means you want fertility treatment to be able to have that child, or whether that means we can do a lot better for working mothers. So that's the idea behind what a bill of women's rights might look like."

Whatever Hogue's many ideas for the future of NARAL and the reproductive rights movement might hold, she said she does not plan to rebrand the organization or focus specifically on appealing to a younger generation. While she acknowledged that NARAL does not have the youthful and edgy reputation that some newer women's organizations cultivated during the 2012 campaign season, she still wants to embrace the long, hard-fought history of the organization and its former leaders and to carry that legacy into the future.

"I have some vague memory of the purple signs at the 1989 March for Women -- it was when I was coming of age, politically," she said. "That history and that legacy are so much a part of why we got to where we are today. I'm not sorry that we didn't live through back-alley abortion days, but I'm really sorry we didn't do a better job of knowing who those leaders are and taking them with us: those amazing women who at the time were 22, 23 years old on the front lines of this battle. So I see no reason why we can't do both: honor the past, and find a way to make it relevant for young people today."

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