The precursor to NARAL was ARAL — the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws. ARAL was an expansion of the "Army of Three" — Pat Maginnis, Rowena Gurner, and Lana Phelan. The Army of Three traveled widely to meet women in private homes and union halls across the county, where they offered support, contraceptive information, and referrals to safe abortion providers in Mexico.
Originally called the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, NARAL was established at the First National Conference on Abortion Laws: Modification or Repeal?, held February 14–16, 1969 in Chicago. Its formation was announced on the front page of The New York Times. The conference, sponsored by 21 organizations and attended by 350 people, included a planning session for NARAL and the report of NARAL's pre-formation planning committee: Lawrence Lader of New York, Garrett Hardin of California, and Dr. Lonny Myers of Chicago. Key conference speakers included obstetrician/gynecologist Bernard Nathanson (who later became a pro-life activist), journalist Lawrence Lader, and women's rights advocate Betty Friedan. The conference was split between those favoring American Law Institute guidelines—which would permit abortion only in cases of rape or incest, or to preserve the life or health of the mother—and those led by Betty Friedan and Conni Bille, favoring abortion rights at the discretion of the mother. These pro-choice advocates asserted that women should determine what was best for themselves in consultation with their physicians. The conference voted to adopt the pro-choice position.
Those agents attending the session elected a 12-person Planning Committee for NARAL's formation: Lawrence Lader (Chairman), Ruth Proskauer Smith (Vice Chairman), Ruth Cusack (Secretary), Beatrice McClintock (Treasurer), Constance Bille Finnerty, Mrs. Marc Hughes Fisher, Betty Friedan, Norval Morris, Stewart Mott, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Edna Smith, and Percy Sutton. The committee held its first official meeting in New York on February 25, 1969. It hired Lee Gidding as the first Executive Director; she opened NARAL's office in New York City on March 3.
The Planning Committee, meeting regularly between February and September 1969, defined NARAL's purpose and program, drafted by-laws to submit to the membership for approval, prepared a slate to run for the Board of Directors, and directed NARAL's activities. The Committee defined NARAL's purpose as follows:
NARAL, recognizing the basic human right of a woman to limit her own reproduction, is dedicated to the elimination of all laws and practices that would compel any woman to bear a child against her will. To that end, it proposes to initiate and co-ordinate political, social, and legal action of individuals and groups concerned with providing safe operations by qualified physicians for all women seeking them regardless of economic status.
The original NARAL program had six parts:
- Assist in the formation in all states of direct political action groups dedicated to the purpose of NARAL;
- Serve as a clearing house for activities related to NARAL's purpose;
- Create new materials for mass distribution which tell the repeal story dramatically and succinctly;
- Train field workers to organize and stimulate legislative action;
- Suggest direct action projects;
- Raise funds for the above activities.
The Board of Directors, elected by the membership, officially replaced the Planning Committee at the first Board meeting, held on September 27, 1969. The Board elected Honorary Officers (Co-Presidents Dr. Lester Breslow and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Senator Maurine Neuberger as Vice President), Officers (including New York City Councilwoman Carol Greitzer as President), an Executive Committee (Lawrence Lader, Chairman), and a Nominating Committee. In addition, the Board adopted a very specific program of action that focused on winning repeal in New York and other key states. Only one year after NARAL's formation, the New York state legislature voted to legalize abortion and the new law went into effect on July 1, 1970. On that day, NARAL held a medical conference at NYU Medical School to train physicians in non-hospital abortion techniques.
From 1969 till early 1973, NARAL worked with other groups to repeal state abortion laws and to oversee implementation of abortion policies in those few states that had liberalized their laws. On January 22, 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, during the first three months of pregnancy, abortion should be a private decision between a woman and her doctor, and that during the second three months state regulation should be permitted only to protect the health of the woman. To reflect the Court's repeal of restrictive laws, NARAL became the National Abortion Rights Action League in late 1973.
In 2003, the organization dropped the long form in favor of NARAL Pro-Choice America. In 2003, the organization launched a massive television and print campaign in order to make abortion a key issue in the 2004 elections.
Read more about this topic: NARAL Pro-Choice America
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