What Does 2016 Hold For Women's Rights? We Asked NARAL President Ilyse Hogue

Ilyse Hogue is going to have a busy 2016. As the president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, Hogue and other reproductive rights leaders have to deal with the very real possibility that access to essential health care will be cut drastically by the Supreme Court. And after Whole Women's Health v. Cole is heard in March, presidential candidates are almost certain to make women's rights — from abortion rights and paid family leave to birth control — a divisive issue during the campaign.

So what should women know and when should we worry? Whole Women's Health v. Cole, the case headed to the Supreme Court this year, could drastically change how — and whether — women get reproductive health care, but there are bright spots, too. Over-the-counter birth control is finally becoming a reality and California has actually expanded abortion rights. Add in the way that family leave is already a big issue in the presidential campaign and this could be a huge year when it comes to news that will impact every woman in the country.

Hogue spoke to Refinery29 about her predictions for 2016 before NARAL officially endorsed Hillary Clinton for President on January 5.

What are some of the areas you see reproductive rights and abortion influencing the election?

"I come from an economic justice background and there is such an integral relationship between reproductive rights and economic equality for women.

"With most middle-class families dependent on two incomes to make a family work, economics and reproductive rights are increasingly a family issue. And so I think the sort of stubbornness of Bernie to not actually integrate that is gonna be really challenging for him as he sort of progresses through the primary. And it showed a lot — it's so funny, because you still love him because he's sort of like your grumpy grandfather.

"But it showed a lot in that first debate when he kept saying, 'You know we need parental leave, so mommies can stay home with their babies.' And I was like, stop saying that. It's 2015. My husband is home with our kids right now so I can be here. You know we need it for families, but it's that very old mentality and I think it's going to be challenging for him.

"But the other thing that I think is super-interesting — and I keep saying this in my late-night Facebook fights — is that, you know, I think that part of what this primary is doing is really forcing a conversation about who owns the term 'progressive.' Right? And why is it more progressive if you're Bernie Sanders than to be Hillary Clinton, who set up the first Rape Crisis Hotlines in the South in the early '70s, when nobody was doing that. That’s only more progressive if you come from a sort of white male perspective and that’s not important to you or it's not been on the radar screen. So I think that this sort of old model of progressivism, which is very much the white, working-class labor era progressivism, is being [challenged] in a really big way right now."
How do you see incorporating that into reproductive justice more, since there is still such a spirited debate?
"I think the question for this convergence of the next reproductive rights fight is happening whether we like it or not. You know there was a lot of debate around it just because of the crisis in the states, but now with the Supreme Court case, it's being imposed on us against the backdrop of a presidential election. So you got that sort of barreling forward and then you’ve got this as-of-yet defined emerging wave of feminism that is very grounded in the experience of women who felt left out of the previous feminine critique.

"And I think it's a great thing. I think right now, it's a little bit of joyful and challenging chaos. You know there's no way to talk about the crisis in reproductive rights and abortion access right now without actually acknowledging that this is really a low-income issue, it's a women of color issue, predominantly. And as we talk about the Texas case that’s going to the Supreme Court, it's not the middle-class women living it — although right now, now it's everyone.

"I was just down there and the wait — do you know the wait times?"
No, how long are they?
"You pick up the phone and you call the clinic. From calling to getting into your appointment is 23 days. 23 days. So that’s gonna start to crunch everyone.

"I think that there is a real frustration that I'm experiencing with the political establishment as a whole for not incorporating this very real experience. You can't talk about economic opportunity and economic equality to me as a woman without actually acknowledging the whole thing is tied up in my family planning. And we have really been trying to explore this link between economic equality, abortion access, and reproductive rights generally. It's been super fascinating.

"And we saw this in focus groups all over the country — we heard from a father in a Midwestern state say, 'You know I haven't achieved my [goals] — I've worked really hard. The thing I'm most proud of are my kids and the education I was able to get them. And if my daughter — I think he literally said 'got knocked up right now' — that would blow everything. She's just out of college. Of course I want grandkids, but she needs to get a job and get established first.' This is the way that real people are experiencing it."

"There is such an integral relationship between reproductive rights and economic equality for women."

Ilyse Hogue, NARAL President
What is the new frontier for reproductive rights groups? Where do you go beyond abortion access?
"The new terrain we're trying to cover since I came in is pregnancy discrimination, which is still such a big problem that people don’t know about; and then parental leave, like really authentic family leave.

"And the testing that we've done on it has shown that, for us, the further you get away from sort of that birthing process or trying to prevent pregnancy, the less people do make those connections. So we're trying to start at the center and build out.

"But the problem we're trying to solve is that the political conventional wisdom would talk about all those things and not abortions, right, because we — and by 'we,' I mean those who vote with us on the issue — have spent decades hearing vote right on this but don’t talk about it, because of the stigma and this is a social issue and people want to talk about jobs in the economy. And what's fascinating to me is that that’s total unilateral disarmament.

"The [anti-choice] side loves nothing more in the general than to not talk about this, because they lose when they talk about it. So we're like, oh, sure, we'll accommodate your desire not to talk about this, because you're on the wrong side and I'm on the right side."

Most men will say, 'At the end of the day, it's my wife, sister, [or] girlfriend's decision,' but they're being actively engaged.

Things are bad in Texas, but what about California? Rights are actually expanding there.
"So there were two in California. One last session and one this session. The one last session was the nurse practitioner abortion bill. It is one of the first actual expansions. And then the one this session that Governor Brown just signed is called the Reproductive Fact Act. It forces transparency and referrals on Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which is a really big deal, because we've not found a way to regulate them. What are you so afraid of, that women have information? And it's because they prey on ignorance to be able to achieve their goals. And so I'm excited about that, but I'm excited about it for the content of the bill."

What has been encouraging for you?
"Our Men for Choice Program is growing like gangbusters. You know it's really one of the most interesting, energy-filled arenas that I operate in. And I think that’s partly because these are issues for our generation that most people make these decisions in the context of partnership. Not all of them, for sure, and the cases where they're not happening in the context of partnership are the last cases you would want any man to have control over the women's decision. And most men will say, 'At the end of the day, it's my wife, sister, [or] girlfriend's decision,' but they're being actively engaged.

"So many of the men I talk to, it's just a basic human-rights issue. And that’s super-inspiring to me, you know. I love marching into a legislator's office with a bunch of dudes. I am one that believes we don’t win anything unless we fight together, so the idea that we could advocate only as women on this and make advances just doesn’t ring true to me. "

More from US News