NARAL Pro-Choice Washington's July 14 "Screw Abstinence" fundraiser seemed like quite a success. Over 200 people—mostly brand new to the organization—jammed into the Watertown bar in Lower Queen Anne to learn about "sexy safer sex" from the sex-toy gals at Babeland (formerly Toys in Babeland). In addition to new recruits, the event pulled in over $4,000.
However, for a couple of recently resigned NARAL board members, the sexed-up event actually raised a red flag, highlighting the political ineptitude of the statewide women's rights organization.
Michele Cotner, 60, a former board member from Vancouver, resigned this spring because, she says, "I wasn't comfortable with the messaging." In general, Cotner thinks NARAL's focus needs to be on preventing unwanted pregnancy rather than on abortion. For her, the "Screw Abstinence" event was a sign that the organization has become "flippant" about the serious issue of unwanted pregnancy.
"If they tried to pull something like that in Vancouver," Cotner says, "no one would show up. Except maybe people who would picket. Behaving that way in Seattle makes the rest of the state wonder, 'Hey, what's going on?' And this is supposed to be a statewide organization."
Indeed, including Cotner—a longtime activist—three board members resigned this spring. The other two, Karen Freeman (who works in County Executive Ron Sims's office) and D. J. Wilson (a political science instructor at Edmonds Community College) also left because "they were disappointed about the strategic vision and direction of the organization," according to a source very close to the board.
The disagreements that colored the board discussions have now gone public thanks to last week's "Screw Abstinence" event. The debate is exactly as Cotner described it: Are "flippant" or sexually cavalier events—sexual liberation–style events that seem like they were hatched in the 1970s—going to help NARAL get anything accomplished politically today? After all, what were the women at the "Screw Abstinence" event rallying around? For example, there are no Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C. trying to pass legislation that prevents 25-year-old women from having sex. So, if the event actually was about sex education in public high schools, it seems ill conceived to be hollering "screw abstinence."
Case in point: NARAL has been trying to push a smart-sex education bill through Olympia that would mandate all sex ed to be medically and scientifically accurate. Democrats in more-conservative districts—like Senators Marilyn Rasmussen (D-2, Fort Lewis, Lacey, Yelm) and Jim Kastama (D-25, Puyallup, Sumner, Edgewood)—are still on the fence. NARAL needs to consider whether or not Democrats from more suburban and rural districts are going to play ball with NARAL when the group sponsors things like "Screw Abstinence" parties.
"They live in a little petri dish of their own," Cotner says. "They're isolated in Seattle. But it's not good leadership to pretend like the rest of the state doesn't matter." ■