Even as election results continue to come in from parts of the country, it’s clear that we are poised for some progress on some key sexual and reproductive health issues with the new 110th Congress. In addition, citizens in South Dakota, California and Oregon took policy making into their own hands – rejecting an effort to criminalize abortions and limit access to these services for young women. And Kansas rejected its attorney general Phil Kline, a notorious advocate for ending access to abortion.
The voters have shown they think the country is headed in the wrong direction – and have put new leadership in place. In many ways, this election is a victory for centrists – and the leadership will try to govern from the middle to help give themselves credibility with the public. The center of the Republican party moved a little to the right with the loss of some of its most well-known moderates: Lincoln Chaffee and Nancy Johnson for example. Many of the newly elected Democrats are moderates, growing the middle of the party.
That new leadership is faced with a plethora of issues and problems to address – and will spend its early months focusing on these: cleaning up the corruption in Congress, charting a course for US intervention in Iraq, creating a living wage for US citizens, finding sane solutions to illegal immigration and so on.
The combination of the need to govern from the middle, coupled with the other issues that are likely to have the focus of the Congress means that we are likely to see progress on common-sense approaches to sexual and reproductive health. This Congress should be able to make some headway in key areas:
- Ensuring a broader, medically-accurate approach to sexuality education that provides the range of information that young people need to address their own sexuality. The over-emphasis of promoting abstinence as the only way to educate young people about their sexuality is likely to end.
- We can expect to see sound approaches to reducing the incidence of abortion. For years the Congress has worked to reduce access to abortion as the method to reduce the incidence of it. Support for contraceptive services – as well as other support services – will be part of the policy mix.
- The ever-growing number of women serving in the armed forces may finally have access to abortion services at the places where they are required to obtain their health care.
- There will be an opportunity to reframe how we address HIV/AIDS prevention in the United States and in our major global effort as well. The narrow ABC approach does not reflect the reality of the pandemic or what needs to be done to slow the spread of HIV
- This Congress will have the opportunity to have the United States join the 140 plus other donors to the United Nations Population Fund, providing sexual and reproductive health services to some of the world’s most underserved individuals.
- The new make up of the Senate is likely to force the Administration to present a different kind of judicial nominee than we have seen in the past. With the potential of a new Supreme Court nominee, not to mention a plethora of other nominations the Administration will make to various federal benches, having an more balanced Senate will be an impetus for the President to select more moderate candidates.
The 110th Congress will have the opportunity to move forward on the issues. We can expect to see them framed as common-sense, public health approaches – rather than ideological harangues that have divided politicians and activists in the past.