Listen up, 2008 presidential candidates. Americans, by a huge majority, support leaving major life decisions around sexual and reproductive health and rights up to the individual — not the government.
And political spin language that relies on straddling the fence, "I'm personally opposed to abortion but I believe it should be legal" is irrelevant and ineffective — at least if your goal is to win over U.S. voters.
Over 1,000 voters were interviewed (and the results released in May) in a poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and coordinated by the Women Donors Network (WDN) and Communications Consortium Media Center (CCMC). The results, outlined in a corresponding report entitled Moving Forward, found vast support for ensuring access to birth control (91%) and comprehensive sexuality education (86%). In addition, both men and women (78%) believe that access to family planning is core to women's equality.
Hillary, Barack and their compatriots should heed the call and embrace these results wholeheartedly.
In an effort to disseminate these messages and illuminate our presidential candidates about where voters stand on these issues, the results have been funneled into a new web site called www.birthcontrolwatch.org. The information helps to tell a crystal clear story about voters, public policy and how to frame these issues.
The poll distinctly found that the road to more expansive voter support for reproductive rights needs to lead to broadening the reproductive rights agenda to include such issues as: birth control and family planning, comprehensive sex education, the HPV vaccine, end of life decisions and emergency contraception. When talking about these issues, the voters polled used values-laden words and terms such as respect, dignity, prevention, planning and personal responsibility to frame their opinions on the subject.
What does that mean for reproductive rights discourse now?
It means that progressive, sexual and reproductive health advocacy organizations are being handed a script. The report tells us how best to dialogue with voters on these issues. Voters want to discuss "prevention, protection and planning" – not just prevention on its own.
It means that 2008 presidential candidates and policymakers are working for a majority of Americans (81%) who want to be able to make the best decisions for themselves ("freedom" and "opportunity") and their families without government interference — whether it's about starting a family or end-of-life issues.
It means that other advocates can take the information and follow suit. The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) has also created a program to address these issues within this new framework with their Plan A campaign.
And it means bad news for House Appropriations Committee leader, David Obey. Under Democrat Obey's leadership, a subcommittee voted to increase federal funding for abstinence-only programs for FY 2008. These concessions, according to Representative Louise Slaughter and this new research, will not fly with voters. So what will?
The Prevention First Act, sponsored by Slaughter, includes funding for Title X, health insurance coverage, access to emergency contraception, comprehensive sex education and Medicaid funding for family planning. In other words, this is a bill voters can get behind. Someone needs to hand deliver a copy of the poll results with the report to members of the House Appropriations Committee as they vote to increase funding for community based abstinence only programs, and debate whether or not to include language that would ease restrictions in the Mexico City Policy (otherwise known as the "Global Gag Rule") this week.