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NARAL Endorses Obama, but Unity in Short Supply

By Garance Franke-Ruta
NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed Barack Obama today in a bid to unify the Democratic Party.

It was a bid that rapidly fell short, provoking an outcry on NARAL's blog and a statement of displeasure with NARAL's timing from the president of Democratic women's political action committee EMILY's List, which supports Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton pronounced herself disappointed with the news.

In a statement early this afternoon, NARAL president Nancy Keenan gave Obama the support of her group's political action committee. "Sen. Obama has been a strong advocate for a woman's right to choose throughout his career in public office. He steadfastly supports and defends a woman's right to make the most personal, private decisions regarding her reproductive health without interference from government or politicians," Keenan said. "Sen. Obama has been a leader on this issue in the United States Senate."

She continued: "We are confident that Barack Obama is the candidate of the future. Americans are tired of the divisive politics of the last eight years, and will unite behind Obama in the fall. We look forward to working with a pro-choice Obama White House in January."

NARAL had defended Obama in January against Clinton campaign attacks in the runup to the New Hampshire primary accusing him of being weak on choice -- the group had earlier endorsed Clinton and Obama during their Senate bids, pronouncing them both solid supporters of abortion rights -- and former NARAL president Kate Michelman was a fierce critic of Clinton during the campaign while acting as a surrogate for former N.C. senator John Edwards.

"I think it is tremendously disrespectful to Sen. Clinton -- who held up the nomination of a FDA commissioner in order to force approval of Plan B and who spoke so eloquently during the Supreme Court nomination about the importance of protecting Roe vs. Wade -- to not give her the courtesy to finish the final three weeks of the primary process," said EMILY's List president Ellen Malcolm of the endorsement. "It certainly must be disconcerting for elected leaders who stand up for reproductive rights and expect the choice community will stand with them."

Asked about NARAL's move by Brian Williams today in an interview for "NBC Nightly News," Clinton pronounced herself disappointed. "I am disappointed because of the work that I've done for so many years," she said. "I'm proud to have the support of, you know, many other groups that -- share my -- views and my commitment to issues. But we're going forward. And we're gonna see where this process -- finally -- resolves. And -- we'll have a nominee. And then we'll all be united."

News of today's endorsement was met less diplomatically on NARAL's blog, "Blog for Choice", where critics frequently echoed Clinton's earlier criticisms of Obama in expressing their annoyance with the endorsement. "Why settle for thirty years of fighting for women's rights when you can have 'present' votes and obscure statements of 'support' from Obama?" wrote someone with the username Shelley. "To say this is a low point for NARAL is an understatement. I will need to consider alternative vehicles for my contributions toward women's reproductive rights."

Added username Charlotte: "I am so disappointed as a woman that you endorsed Obama before the Democratic primary is even over! You have thrown all of the progressive men and women who have fought for reproductive rights and are fighting for the first women nominee under the bus. Particularly for a man who votes "present" on tough reproductive issues. I am blown away."

The comments continued on and on in this vein, suggesting that feelings may still be running too high among Clinton supporters for unity moves to have their intended effects at the present time. "I have never been so disgusted," wrote N Miller. "How dare you claim to represent pro-choice women and then turn your back on one of the most influential women's right advocates in recent history? I am a lifelong activist and I will never, never forgive you for this." Said Angry Pro-Choice Voter: "I am outraged. This is absolutely ridiculous. I will never give money or support to NARAL again. Shame on you, NARAL, for selling out to the left wing of the Democratic Party." Added Mary Jane Casper: "I am disappointed that NARAL, whom I have supported for years, is endorsing Obama prematurely. You are dividing your critical supporters by taking this stand."

More than 1,000 comments later, the criticisms of NARAL -- as well as of Clinton supporters who criticized the group's endorsement -- were still flooding in.

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 14, 2008; 6:30 PM ET
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