Reproductive rights activists around the country celebrated the decisive defeat at the ballot box on November 4 of attempts to ban or limit abortion rights in South Dakota, Colorado, and California.
Unfortunately, four other ballot initiatives–to ban gay marriage and
adoption by unmarried couples–succeeded. These initiatives–in
California, Arkansas, Arizona, and Florida–were defeats not only for
the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, or GLBT community, but
also for the reproductive rights community and for anyone who believes
in freedom, equality, and fairness.
Reproductive rights mean more than the right to terminate a
pregnancy, as explained in the Center for American Progress’s 2006
publication, "More Than a Choice."
In fact, a progressive reproductive rights agenda should encompass the
ability to become a parent and to parent with dignity, to determine
whether and when to have children, to have a healthy pregnancy, and to
have healthy and safe families and relationships.
All of these issues were at stake in the 2008 ballot
initiatives-both the measures that voters rejected, and the ones that
passed into law. Specifically:
- South Dakota‘s Measure 11 would have banned
abortion with nominal exceptions for rape, incest, and the life or
health of the woman. Designed as a direct legal challenge to Roe v. Wade,
the ban clearly would have interfered with a woman’s ability to assess
her own life circumstances and decide whether to become a parent. By
impeding a physician’s ability to provide a pregnant woman with all
appropriate medical care, it also would have jeopardized the right to a
healthy pregnancy for women who want to carry current or future
pregnancies to term. Voters rejected this dangerous law by 55 to 45
- Colorado‘s Amendment 48 would have
defined an embryo as a person, giving legal rights to every embryo
beginning at fertilization. The impact of this "personhood" approach
would have gone far beyond outlawing abortion. Bestowing legal rights
on embryos would have prohibited the use of several types of birth
control, and some practices to address infertility. It also might have
prevented doctors from treating ectopic pregnancies, thereby
threatening women’s future fertility and even their lives. This law
would thus have obstructed many women from preventing a pregnancy, some
women from ending unwanted pregnancies, and other women from becoming
parents when they desperately wish to do so. Voters rejected the
"personhood" amendment 73 to 27 percent.
Proposition 4 would have changed the state constitution to require
doctors to notify parents before performing an abortion on a minor.
This proposed law ignored the rights of young women to make their own
decisions about whether or not to become parents. It also would have
undermined ethical high-quality health care by forcing health providers
to violate patient confidentiality, and it would have placed vulnerable
teens at risk for family violence, homelessness, and forced reporting
of abuse under unsafe circumstances. Recognizing that this law would
not appropriately address at-risk family situations or create
healthier, happier families, voters rejected the amendment 52 to 48
In all of these cases, voters recognized what was at stake, and
voted against restrictions on reproductive freedom. But in four other
cases, that didn’t happen:
- Arkansas residents voted to prohibit unmarried
people, whether single or in heterosexual or same-sex couples, from
adopting or fostering children. This effort, motivated by blatant
homophobic intolerance, will prevent many caring, responsible adults
from becoming parents. Sadly, this mean-spirited measure passed at a
time when 3,700 children in Arkansas are in state custody awaiting
- In Arizona, California, and Florida,
voters approved constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage.
These laws undermine families and relationships, and in many cases, the
ability to become a parent or to parent with dignity. These laws also
relegate one group of people to second-class citizenship, denying them
rights and responsibilities that most Americans take for granted simply
because they fell in love with someone society deems the wrong person.
Reproductive rights are about far more than abortion — they also
encompass contraception, adoption, and intimate relationships,
including marriage. The ability to manage our fertility through
contraception and, when necessary, abortion, enables us to plan our
families and to determine whether, when, and with whom to have
children. Adoption, too, allows caring adults to become parents and
form loving families. And marriage provides legal and social benefits
that make it easier to care for one another and to raise children with
the security and resources they need to thrive.
These rights are indivisible, and defending them comes not only from
a concern for women or for the GLBT community. Reproductive rights are
about nothing less than the ability to chart one’s own course in
life–to make decisions about love, sex, and family without government
interference or discrimination. That ability is central to core
American values of freedom, equality, and fairness. It is time for
progressives to join together in support of a complete and
comprehensive reproductive rights agenda that advances liberty and
justice for all.
This article was first posted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.