Ilyse Hogue’s Advice for Abortion Rights Activists

Ilyse Hogue has spent the last six years on the frontlines of the battle for reproductive rights as the president of NARAL—and she knows exactly what’s at the core of the growing fight to restrict them. She also knows how we can fight back.

“This is a fight about control over women,” Hogue told Ms., calling the extreme anti-abortion measures being put forward by lawmakers across the country “scary,” and adding that they “will do real damage”—especially for poor women and women of color.

But the radical minority of abortion opponents behind them don’t just want to criminalize abortion, Hogue warns. They also want to outlaw birth control. “They are exposing how fringe these groups really are,” Hogue added, by pushing this agenda even further.

“This is a clash of ideologies,” she explained—freedom and liberty versus a rigid definition of family and a very narrow view of a “moral code about how women are supposed to live their lives.”

There will be short- and long-term political consequences from that clash. “The radical fringe is going for the gold,” Hogue said, and Chief Justice Roberts is caught “between a rock and a hard place” trying to avoid controversial cases on abortion rights—many of which are now wending their way to the Supreme Court. Hogue worries that Roe could be endangered if the Court takes one of those cases for review, and thinks it is likely to be gutted by restrictions on abortion that make it nearly or fully impossible for women in certain states to access the care they need.

But Hogue is also heartened by the response activists and lawmakers have had to these risks.

After a flurry of draconian abortion bans were introduced or signed into law in Georgia, Texas, Ohio, Missouri, Alabama and Louisiana, over 500 #StopTheBans rallies materialized across the country in four days—a powerful reminder that a majority of Americans support abortion rights.

In Kansas, the state Supreme Court recently affirmed that abortion was a constitutional right. In Nevada, women successfully fought to enact the Nevada Trusts Women Act—and in 2018, while voters there elected a pro-choice governor, voters nationwide took the same energy to the ballot box and ushered in what Hogue described as the most pro-choice Congress in history.

“The louder we are, the better,” Hogue declared. She urged feminists to be organized and focused and have a “strong visible response” to anti-abortion policies that attack their freedoms.

That response can take many forms: volunteering at a local women’s health care clinic, dressing up as a Handmaid on the steps of your state Capitol or even canvassing for pro-choice candidates. Hogue also suggested a small start: normalizing abortion by talking about it. Use the “a” word—and bring up abortion in conversations with your friends and family.

It’s time for us to raise our voices, at home and in the streets. Our lives depend on it.


Sheila Markin Nielsen is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and author of The Markin Report, a blog on the right side of history and the left side of politics making sense of a world turned upside down.