NARAL president Ilyse Hogue speaks on working women

On Tuesday, Oct. 3, St. Olaf hosted the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue. Hogue, who graduated as a geology major from Vassar College, has become an instrumental activist for social justice. Most notably, she champions reproductive  rights and womens’ place in the workforce.

The 2016 Democratic National Convention speaker came to St. Olaf to discuss her role at NARAL Pro-Choice America and the power and benefits that come with having women in the workforce.

“If you have 10 percent of women at executive or key positions, you’re going to get a return on your investment at 27 percent better than you will with less than 5 percent,” Hogue said. “So in economic terms, that’s a pretty good investment.”

She went on to explain how these benefits to companies can be threatened without access to reproductive healthcare.

“There’s literally no way to get to representation of women in civil society or in the workplace if we don’t centralize a commitment to the power of women to have control over the most fundamental decisions we will ever make in our lives, which is when and how and with whom we have families,” Hogue said. “All of that benefit … is not possible without thinking about how and when we are in charge of procreation.”

A knowledge of the history behind reproductive rights is important to understanding her argument. Contrary to popular belief, the religious right was not always organized in opposition to abortion. The religious right began by fighting school desegregation, and they lost that fight. In the 1970s, contraception became legal for use outside of the context of marriage. These events ushered in an age of sexual liberation in which more women started entering the workforce and began competing with men for jobs. 

The United States is 57 in the world in terms of representation of women on the federal level. It is also the only industrialized nation without paid parental leave. Culturally, women are “reproductively damned if you do and reproductively damned if you don’t,” Hogue said. She stressed the importance of women standing up for themselves and holding positions of power.

“Everything we aspire to as a democracy comes down to protecting the rights of those with the least power among us,” Hogue said. “So for me … there is no possibility for a strong, equal thriving democracy without affording women equal power, and there’s no affording women equal power if you don’t start from a place of power and sovereignty over our own bodies, which leads to power and sovereignty over our own lives. And that there is why I became the President of NARAL.”