In the reproductive justice arena, 2006 has been a year of big wins and a few heartbreaking losses. For better and worse, the year has been a doozy. You know about some of the challenges already, but you also know that hard work pays off, and there were several excellent successes, too.
Since these are the days that many folks are thinking and rethinking their New Year's resolutions, now's the perfect time for some guidance. Coming up with the perfect resolution requires a delicate balance: a combination of something that you really want with something that you can actually accomplish. I thought I'd take the liberty of helping out our incoming Congress by offering a few suggestions they might resolve to achieve this year.
1. We resolve to do something about the fact that more than 40 million Americans don't have health insurance. We will not get bullied by insurance conglomerates and private interests in this matter. People need health care and we can make it happen.
Many, many of the reproductive justice issues that we face today are matters of health care. For example, access to pre- and post-natal care can change the lives of thousands of women and children in the US each year. Further, instead of criminalizing women who need health care services, we should offer better and more viable health care services. People suffer for ailments that can be easily treated and easily prevented. The right to bodily integrity and freedom from unwarranted pain and suffering make health care into a preeminent human rights issue. What more evidence is needed to make this into a top agenda item for 2007?
2. We resolve to ratify the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the UN Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
Just as many reproductive justice issues are matters of health care, they also require structural change that will help us re-evaluate and reorganize society in such a way that moves the human rights agenda to the top of our priority list. By demonstrating commitment to both the international frameworks and the structural mechanisms they employ, the US would be making a much-needed statement about its commitment to women's human rights. And we'd have another legislative means by which we could hold our representatives accountable for ensuring full and equal access to the gamut of rights that we value.
3. We resolve to lift the Global Gag Rule (a.k.a. Mexico City Policy), which prevents women around the world from receiving the reproductive health care that they need.
The restrictions mandated by the Global Gag Rule ensure that no U.S. family planning assistance can be provided to foreign NGO's that use funding from any other source to: perform abortions in cases other than a threat to the woman's life, rape or incest; provide counseling and referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their country. We must take our responsibilities seriously. This involves being aware of the kind of world we want to live in and what rights we think women around the world should have. To this end, we must keep a close eye on our national policies and whether they contribute to that vision or actively prevent it from becoming a reality. The Global Gag Rule is one such roadblock that should be removed.
4. We resolve to pressure the Bush Administration to reinstate funding for the UNFPA, the world's largest multinational provider of reproductive health services.
The UNFPA works with governments and non-governmental organizations in more than 140 countries. It supports programs which promote an overall raising of awareness and help women, men and young people in the areas of 1) family planning and contraception, 2) pre-natal care, obstetrics and post-natal care, 3) prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, as well as, 4) combating violence against women. In 2002 the Bush Administration announced they would withhold the $34 million that Congress allocated to UNFPA. Today the total amount of blocked funds stands at over $125 million.
5. We resolve to study the real effects of federally funded "abstinence only until marriage" programs. Instead, we will consider and implement workable alternatives.
We owe as much to the young people in the US. We owe it to them to make sure that we give them the correct information about their bodies. We owe it to them to make sure they have all the facts they need to know how to negotiate healthy relationships and maintain healthy bodies. While abstinence may be a viable option for some people in some cases, according to a recent study by the Journal of Adolescent Health, "Controversy arises when abstinence is provided to adolescents as a sole choice and where health information on other choices is restricted or misrepresented." By offering them faulty information and giving an incomplete picture of how much agency and control over their bodies they DO have, we do them, and ourselves a grave disservice. Instead, we should investigate and seriously consider alternatives like the Responsible Education about Life (REAL) Act (formerly the Family Life Education act) that would provide federal money to support responsible sex education in schools. This act would require that sex-ed should include scientifically and medically accurate, as well as age appropriate public health information about both abstinence and contraception. These are the kinds of solutions we need: ones that respect the fact that young people have inviolable rights of which reproductive rights are a crucial component.
6. We resolve to put a social justice agenda at the top of our priority list, above the interests of multinational corporations and private business interests. The American public voted for us to represent THEM, and we will remember this.
If they take these things on, the 110th Congress will certainly be busy. Let's hope that they will work hard to and make 2007 into a hallmark year for women's health and reproductive rights as a result!