Benjamin Levitan: Over the past twenty years, how much of an impact do you think EMILY’s List has had? Ellen Malcolm: When we began, which was ten elections ago, nobody took women candidates seriously at all, so we created the donor network to raise early money for pro-choice Democratic women to convince the traditional funders that our women were realistic contenders. And the impact of that has been phenomenal. Now I think the dynamic has significantly changed for women, and we see women running in the biggest races in this country and winning them.
BL: What percentage of your donors are women?
Malcolm: I think it’s about ninety percent, but we certainly have men members.
BL: I’d like to ask about Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. You supported her when she first ran for Senate in 1996, but after she voted for the ban on partial-birth abortions, you reevaluated your support for her.
Malcolm: We did. The disagreement we had with her was that she did not insist on an exception to protect the health of the mother. Essentially, Roe v. Wade—the principles of Roe v. Wade—says that protecting a woman’s life and health is critical, and the Santorum Amendment took out the exception for health. We disagreed with that and parted ways on that issue. I think it’s very important that, if a doctor decides a certain procedure is necessary to protect a woman’s ability to have children in the future, then he should be able to make that decision with the agreement of the patient and without the members of Congress telling him what to do.
BL: Another EMILY’s List beneficiary, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, recently alarmed some pro-choice advocates when she said that “abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.” Does EMILY’s List have any reservations about her comments?
Malcolm: Not at all. You know, I think the press coverage of the speech was a lot more dramatic than the speech itself. I read what Sen. Clinton said and I thought she raised some very important issues. For example, the choice community would be very happy if the anti-choice community would work with us on family planning issues and sensible sex education issues to reduce the need for abortions. They consistently back away from that, and you see now the rate of abortions actually going up in the Bush Administration when it was going down in the Clinton Administration. So I think that Sen. Clinton talked about the need to build bridges over there, and I wish the anti-choice community would come over and work with us on a lot of these important issues.
BL: With Harry Reid, a Nevadan with a pro-life record, now leading the Democrats in the Senate, do you think that Democrats are still committed to protecting choice?
Malcolm: Oh very much so. The majority of the country is pro-choice, and certainly that is the case with Democrats, and the people who support Democratic candidates are overwhelmingly pro-choice, as we see with the membership of EMILY’s List.
BL: Do you not see a need necessarily to bring more people over to the choice side because you think that most people are already there?
Malcolm: Well, certainly all the polling shows that an overwhelming majority believe in a woman’s right to choose. There’s a very small number, a small percentage of people who think that choice should be taken away entirely.
BL: It seems that many people think that choice shouldn’t be taken away entirely but that current laws need restrictions or modifications. Are you concerned about the potential relatively minor changes?
Malcolm: Well, certainly, that’s what they have attempted to do for years with all kinds of restrictions and making up things like “partial birth abortion” and now this fetal pain issue that they’re trying to promote. But at the end of the day, we need to go out and make the case about what the fundamental rights are, and show how the fundamental right needs to be protected.
BL: Many people believe that Karl Rove would never let Bush ban abortion entirely because he recognizes that most people support the right to choose at least to some degree. Do you think that Bush would ban abortion entirely if he had the numbers in Congress and the Supreme Court?
Malcolm: I think he is in a very difficult political position because he is in the pocket of the fundamentalist right wing, and I think there’s gonna be a tremendous amount of pressure on him to pick Supreme Court nominees who will overturn Roe. I think if they do that, they will suffer dire consequences in the federal offices, but in the states as well. And I’m assuming that Karl Rove understands that and is anguishing over his decision.