NARAL Pro-Choice America (NARAL), formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League, is a social-liberal organization which engages in political action and advocacy efforts to expand access to abortion across the United States. NARAL operates primarily through grassroots organizing, leading nationwide campaigns to promote and normalize abortion. NARAL, alongside its political action committees, is one of the most influential left-of-center organizations in the country. Following the 2008 election, NARAL was ranked second among the nation’s most influential left-of-center political organizations for the success rate of NARAL-endorsed Democratic candidates in contested congressional races.
NARAL has supported a range of left-of-center legislative initiatives to expand access to abortion, most recently backing a bill which would repeal the Hyde Amendment, a law that bars the use of federal funding for abortions. Aside from working as a national organization, NARAL maintains local chapters in every state in the country which frequently organize to promote broad abortion access and government-funded abortion at the state level. During the coronavirus pandemic in spring of 2020, when several states declared abortion to be a nonessential medical procedure in order to preserve medical resources for COVID-19 patients, NARAL launched a six-figure digital advertising campaign to allege that Republicans were exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to dismantle “reproductive rights.”
Though NARAL is vehemently pro-abortion, one of its founders, Bernard Nathanson, oversaw over 75,000 abortions before converting to the pro-life movement and dedicating his life to opposing abortion. Nathanson admitted in several books and interviews that he and NARAL had manipulated and falsely reported abortion statistics in order to gain increased sympathy for the pro-abortion movement. NARAL’s current president, Ilyse Hogue, has strong ties to other left-of-center organizations and made national news in 2016 when she took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention and proudly discussed her own personal abortion.
The precursor to NARAL was formed in 1964, prior to the Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade which federally mandated legal abortion.  NARAL was originally named the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (ARAL).  NARAL was founded by Pat Maginnis, Lana Phelan, and Rowena Gurner, three left-wing abortion advocates in California known as the “Army of Three.”  Maginnis, known as the “Che Guevara of abortion reformers,” not only fought to repeal abortion laws, but also took radical steps to advocate for the widespread use of abortion, including teaching full classes for women which described techniques for at-home abortions performed without the supervision of medical professionals.  Maginnis was arrested for her work, which led to the repeal of a San Francisco ordinance barring individuals from educating women about how to “induce a miscarriage.” 
Five years later, NARAL was established in 1969 when members convened for the “First National Conference on Abortion Laws: Modification or Repeal.”  The conference was sponsored by 21 organizations and attended by 350 people. At the first convention, attendees elected the NARAL Planning Committee, which included left-of-center activists such as Betty Friedan.  The Planning Committee defined NARAL’s purpose as being “dedicated to the elimination of all laws and practices that would compel any woman to bear a child against her will,” calling abortion “the basic human right of a woman.” 
To that end, the planning committee adopted a plan of action which included establishing political action groups to promote abortion in all states, serving as a “clearinghouse” for abortion advocacy, mass-distributing literature dedicated to repealing abortion laws, training field workers for legislative and direct action, and fundraising.  The Committee elected Lee Gidding as NARAL’s first executive director on February 25, 1969, and she opened NARAL’s first office one week later. 
Before the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, NARAL worked primarily with other state-based groups to repeal abortion laws and to oversee the implementation of pro-abortion policies in states with looser restrictions. 
Post-Roe v. Wade
In January 1973, the United States Supreme Court held in Roe v. Wade that during the first three months of a woman’s pregnancy, abortion is a private decision between a woman and her health care provider, and in the second three months, state regulation should only be permitted to protect the health of the mother. 
Following the Roe decision, NARAL changed its name to the National Abortion Rights Action League in late 1973 to reflect the Court-effected repeal of abortion regulation.  In response to a wave of pro-life activism following the court decision, NARAL began to actively recruit members and aggressively fundraise, moving its headquarters to Washington, D.C. in order to lobby more effectively. 
In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, a law which bars federal funds from being used for abortion services, with exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and the need to save the life of the mother.  NARAL alleged that the law “turned the right to abortion into a privilege,” and that same year, NARAL launched an aggressive mail campaign to Congress in order to pressure legislators into repealing the Hyde Amendment.
The following year, NARAL overtly shifted its organizational focus to political activism, establishing NARAL PAC.  The organization also established a 501(c)(3), NARAL Foundation, as a pro-abortion education organization. 
Beginning in the 1980s, NARAL shifted its focused to grassroots organizing following the widespread election of conservative officials in the election of 1980.  Five years later, NARAL collected over 40,000 letters gathered from women who had received abortions for its “Abortion Rights, Silent No More” campaign.  NARAL leaders then read the letters aloud at a gathering in May 1985.  In 1989, NARAL continued its push for pro-abortion grassroots activism, cosponsoring the March for Women’s Lives and organizing nationwide “Speak Out” rallies for individuals to discuss the “benefits” of abortion as the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the constitutionality of a Missouri law restricting it. 
Move to Political Lobbying
The 1992 Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey scaled back the constitutional protections for abortion provided by Roe v. Wade, while still upholding the broader legal right to access abortions.  The following year, on the anniversary of Roe, President Bill Clinton ordered the reversal of federal abortion restrictions put in place by former pro-life presidents. 
During the mid-1990s, NARAL shifted its focus away from grassroots activism towards political lobbying.  NARAL aggressively lobbied Congress to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, and in the following year, NARAL worked towards the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance (FACE) Act which forbids anyone from threatening or physically obstructing individuals entering abortion clinics.  In 1995, NARAL helped to organize the Women’s Rights rally in New York City in order to protest the mere presence of Pope John Paul II because the Pope asserted the longstanding Catholic position that abortion is against the Catholic faith. 
In 2003, NARAL changed its official name to NARAL Pro-Choice America to coincide with the launch of “its largest grassroots mobilization initiative in its history.”  Since 2000, NARAL activity has focused on large-scale, mass-media campaigns designed to promote abortion across the United States.  Following the 2008 presidential election, NARAL was ranked second among the nation’s top 21 political organizations for its win rate among NARAL-endorsed Democratic candidates in contested races. 
NARAL has organized several pro-abortion grassroots campaigns in recent years, including “Men for Choice,” a campaign to organize pro-abortion men in support of NARAL.  Since the launch of the campaign in 2013, many left-of-center officials have joined, including Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA).  Three years later, during the 2016 Democratic primary elections, NARAL organized “#AskAboutAbortion,” a campaign to pressure debate moderators to ask a question about abortion during the Democratic primary debates.  That same year, NARAL pushed the Democratic National Committee to include a repeal of the Hyde Amendment in its official platform. 
In 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, NARAL launched a grassroots campaign to fight the nomination called “The People’s Defense” in an effort to secure a Supreme Court with a liberal bias.  The following year, NARAL launched “Unite for Justice,” alongside left-of-center organizing group MoveOn.org, to fight the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 
Aside from advocating for increased access to abortion, NARAL also pushes for policies including expanded mandatory paid family leave and mandatory coverage of contraception on private insurance plans.  Though NARAL frequently works to influence legislation and elections, it also runs campaigns to exercise influence over the political process.
Since the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, NARAL has run the “Reality of Roe” campaign, a state-based initiative to create support for abortion.  Citing fears that “at least 20 cases” which may soon be heard by the United States Supreme Court could “gut” Roe v. Wade, NARAL launched the campaign in order to push state legislatures to adopt expansive legislation permitting abortion.  Through the initiative, NARAL encourages supporters to host “Pro-Choice Postcard” parties in which pro-abortion supporters gather to send postcards to state legislators encouraging the expansion of abortion access. 
In 2013, NARAL launched the “Men for Choice” campaign which encourages men in public positions to support abortion initiatives.  In 2016, members of the campaign released a letter to celebrate Father’s Day, arguing that President Donald Trump is a “misogynist” for supporting a pro-life position.  The letter was signed by a range of public officials and Democratic candidates, including Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
Men for choice campaign members are encouraged to share their stories, with one member writing that his “ex-girlfriend’s abortion saved my life.”  The anonymous author of the piece, published in Vice and republished on NARAL’s website, argues that when he discovered his girlfriend was pregnant he felt “as if [he] was falling backward through space.”  The article goes onto argue that if the woman had not aborted her child, his “work, all the planning, all the decisions” he had made “could be upended” while he remained “out of control.” 
NARAL also leads campaigns designed to demonize pro-life and Republican officials, launching the “Hypocrisy of the Pro-Life Movement” campaign to criticize those who oppose abortion by claiming that the Republican Party is “hellbent on harming women and families.”  In addition to encouraging supporters to get involved, NARAL has partnered with other left-of-center organizations, including Emily’s List and the National Abortion Federation, to run anti-Republican ads on social media. 
In 2019, when several states passed laws designed to limit abortions, NARAL, alongside the ACLU and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, launched the #StopTheBans campaign to protest the legislation.  NARAL planned more than 400 events outside statehouses and courts on a single day, drawing crowds including U.S. Senator and then-Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who called the state-based bans “the beginning of President Trump’s war on women.” 
Federal Legislative Initiatives
Aside from organizing campaigns, NARAL has led a series of initiatives to push for pro-abortion legislation. In 2019, NARAL supported the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill which would codify the ruling of Roe v. Wade, declare legal abortions “essential to women’s health and central to women’s ability to participate equally in the economic and social life of the United States,” and prevent states from imposing any abortion restrictions whatsoever under the guise that regulating abortion is tantamount to regulating interstate commerce.   NARAL encouraged its members to contact their congressional representatives in support of the act.  In May of 2019, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where it has been stalled. 
NARAL has further fought for the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act in response to a federal rule that denies aid funding to foreign non-governmental organizations which promote abortion services and was repealed by the Obama administration and restored by the Trump administration.  The HER Act aims to make it illegal for the United States to deny health funding to foreign NGOs because they promote abortion.  The bill was stalled in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in February 2019. 
NARAL is a fierce proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee equal legal rights between genders in matters of property, divorce, employment, and more.   NARAL encouraged supporters to contact representatives in an attempt to pass the ERA through Congress, and to contact state representatives to urge states to hold a vote on the ratification of the ERA to pass it through the state ratification process.  In 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA.  The ERA will now face constitutional challenges regarding the timeline of its ratification. 
NARAL cites a range of legislative “successes” on its website, most notably its #NoAbortionBan campaign.  In January 2018, congressional Republicans proposed a federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.  NARAL circulated a petition and sent letters urging Congress to reject the legislation, which ultimately failed. 
When Republicans endeavored to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), NARAL called the plan a “threat to Medicaid, anyone with a pre-existing condition, and necessary access to health care for women.”  NARAL sent over 50,000 messages to Congress opposing the repeal, in addition to making thousands of phone calls.  Though NARAL took credit for the failure to repeal Obamacare and claimed that they needed to “keep the pressure on so that Republicans know they can’t trample reproductive freedom,” it was Republican Senator John McCain’s “no” vote which prevented the repeal.  
In July 2019, Democratic congresswomen introduced the EACH Woman Act, a bill which would repeal the Hyde Amendment.  NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and several other left-of-center organizations gathered more than 170,000 signatures in support of the bill, which ultimately stalled in the House Subcommittee on Health.  
Intervention in Elections
Though most of NARAL’s political interventions come through its political action committee, NARAL itself has made significant expenditures to influence elections in favor of Democratic candidates. During the 2018 midterm election, NARAL launched its largest ever election action, spending over $5 million to elect pro-abortion candidates in 19 different states.  
During 2017, NARAL reported spending over $8.5 million on political campaign activities, excluding direct donations to campaigns from NARAL PAC, to provide “choice messaging,” “talking points,” and “campaign assistance” for various Democratic candidates.   NARAL’s largest donation recipients include the Democratic Attorneys General Association ($100,000), Citizens for a Better Illinois ($338,882), and Vote Vets Action Fund ($350,000).  NARAL also made expenditures on behalf of particular candidates’ campaigns, including $30,000 to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) who went on to sign one of the most extensive pieces of pro-abortion legislation in the country. 
During the 2018 election cycle, NARAL made a total of $962,853 in independent expenditures to push for the election of pro-abortion representatives, with an overwhelming majority of all expenditures going to oppose Republican congressional candidates.   NARAL spent over $100,000 in order to oppose Republicans in each of four congressional races, most notably spending over $170,000 to defeat Republican incumbent David Brat in Virginia’s 7th District.  
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, several governors ordered the suspension of most abortions during the outbreak as part of a shutdown of all nonessential medical procedures.  Several pro-abortion groups, including NARAL, have presented legal challenges to the bans, causing most of the orders to be blocked or partially scaled back. 
NARAL has further used the coronavirus pandemic to push pro-abortion messaging, holding an online webinar in April 2020 on fighting “health disinformation” both on social media and “in conversation with your family.”  NARAL has also used the pandemic to push the FDA to lift restrictions on abortions through medications. 
In the wake of protests against stay-at-home orders in many states, NARAL has accused those protesting of being “right wing.”  When a photo surfaced of an anti-lockdown protestors holding a “my body, my choice” sign, NARAL president Ilyse Hogue took to Twitter, claiming without evidence that the woman is a “right wing” operative “coopting symbols and language from other movements.”  Hogue went so far as to assume that the woman is pro-life and accused her of “hypocrisy” for choosing to be outside, which Hogue claimed “jeopardizes literally thousands of lives.” 
In response to the pandemic, NARAL has launched a six-figure advertising campaign to target voters in swing states, alleging that President Trump and other Republican lawmakers are “putting ideology over science” and using the pandemic as an excuse to “roll back the clock” on the availability of abortion services.  The advertisement follows NARAL’s announcement that its political arm would be spending nearly $35 million during the 2020 election cycle to target voters in swing states, including Michigan, Iowa, and Colorado.  NARAL has also praised the efforts of Democratic governors to veto legislation which would declare abortion a non-essential procedure during the pandemic. 
Even while decrying individuals who claim that they should not have to obey lockdown orders, NARAL officials have gone on the record to state that even during a pandemic, “People need the freedom to make their own health care decisions.”  NARAL has also used the pandemic to push for vote by mail in the 2020 elections, alongside many other left-of-center organizations, despite documented security risks of vote by mail. 
Founder’s Conversion to the Pro-Life Movement
In 1969, Bernard Nathanson was one of the founders of NARAL and a staunch pro-abortion advocate.  Nathanson, an obstetrician and gynecologist, also served as NARAL’s first medical adviser and was colloquially referred to as the “Abortion King.”   In 1970, the state of New York legalized abortion, at which point Nathanson became the director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, which he went on to call “the largest abortion clinic in the Western world.”  Nathanson presided over 75,000 abortion procedures during his time with the pro-abortion movement. 
In the mid-1970s, Nathanson began experiencing misgivings about abortion, especially as sonograms became more readily available and Nathanson saw that individuals could “see the human fetus, measure it, observe it, watch it, and indeed bond with it and love it.”  Nathanson performed his last abortion in late 1978 or early 1979 and went on to dedicate his life to writing and speaking out against abortion. 
Terry Beatley, founder and president of Hosea Initiative, has since claimed that on his death bed, Nathanson admitted to an “8 point propaganda strategy he used to deceive America into believing abortion is ‘women’s healthcare.’” Nathanson himself admitted in interviews and papers that he and NARAL misrepresented the amount of abortions performed in the United States to arouse sympathy for the cause and admitted to using false polling numbers regarding the favorability of abortion and quoting them to the media. 
NARAL has since fully written Nathanson out of its history, with a search for “Nathanson” on the NARAL website yielding not a single result. 
People and Funding
In 2017, NARAL reported $14,349,862 in total revenue, in addition to $1,886,987 in assets, not including NARAL’s political action committees or the NARAL Foundation.  Most of NARAL’s funding came from grants in 2018, amounting to over $12.6 million, while fundraising events brought in another $1.2 million in revenue.  NARAL further reported $430,000 in revenue generated from “lobby service.”  NARAL spent more on advertising than on any other category of expenses in 2018, spending over $6 million. 
Ilyse Hogue works as the current president of NARAL.  Hogue has a long history with left-of-center and left-wing organizations, working with MoveOn.org, Friends of Democracy, and Media Matters for America before joining NARAL.  Hogue also sits on the editorial board for The Nation magazine, a left-wing publication.  In 2016, Hogue considered a run for chair of the Democratic National Committee, after working as a top surrogate fundraiser for Hillary Clinton.  At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Hogue made national news when she took to the stage to proudly discuss her own personal abortion.