The election of Barack Obama
heralds at long last a season of promise and opportunity: the chance
to improve the lives of millions of Americans and people throughout
the world by ending the Bush administration’s horrific war on women
and making reproductive health a priority for U.S. law and policy. Yet
earlier this fall, I said that no matter who won in November, those
of us on the front lines of the fight for reproductive rights and health
care would have our work cut out for us.
Clearly we have reason to rejoice
the recent sound defeat of two state ballot initiatives designed as
attacks on Roe v. Wade and the California initiative mandating
parental notification. These outcomes send an unambiguous message to
our elected officials that our government should not interfere with
personal and private decisions about our health and families. There
is no doubt that backers of the South Dakota abortion ban and Colorado’s
"personhood" amendment had their sights on the U.S. Supreme Court
and overturning Roe. The stakes were high not only for women
and families in these states, but for women throughout the country.
Fortunately, the voters in
South Dakota, Colorado and California have made it clear that they put
the health, safety and privacy of the women in their states first, above
abortion politics. Proponents of both of these measures would be wise
to follow the electorate’s wishes and put these issues to rest.
But even with these victories,
and even with this election, individual state legislatures remain dangerous
arenas in which we struggle to preserve every woman’s rights to choose
whether or not she will bear children, and to have the broadest access
to contraception, abortion, health information and pregnancy care. Every
year, our opponents introduce more than 600 anti-choice measures in
the states. Just last month in Oklahoma, the Center for Reproductive
Rights filed suit immediately to block a law that would force a woman
to listen to a doctor describe an ultrasound image of her fetus. And,
in a bizarre Alice through the Looking Glass
twist, the same law would prevent a woman from suing if her doctor intentionally
withholds other information about the fetus, such as severe abnormalities. Fortunately,
we won an order temporarily blocking the law while we prepare for trial.
We know that this coming January
will be equally bad or even worse as our opponents rush to take advantage
of the Bush administration’s dangerous judicial legacy: the current
Supreme Court and President Bush’s judicial appointees, which make
up more than one-third of sitting federal judges and the most conservative
in modern history.
We have suffered under the
yoke of an Administration that has suppressed science to the detriment
of health and has done damage to constitutional and human rights values.
Federal court decisions have undermined the protections established
by Roe v. Wade, funding for basic reproductive health care is
inadequate and maternal mortality rates among women of color remain
shamefully high. At the U.N., the United States has undermined protection
for reproductive rights and health, and restrictions that the U.S. places
on foreign assistance hamper rather than promote progress. All this
flies in the face of the United States’ historical role as a world
leader in championing equality and human rights and of supporting access
to essential reproductive health care around the world.
In sharp contrast to the erosion
of protection for reproductive rights in U.S. law, the global trend
within United Nations’, regional and national jurisprudence has been
towards recognition of reproductive rights as human rights. Recent decisions
by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court
of Human Rights have found that denying women abortions in certain circumstances
violated human rights guarantees. In addition, in the last twenty years,
16 countries have liberalized their abortion laws. At a time when the
world is moving towards greater recognition and protection of these
rights, the United States should also be advancing and not retreating.
Our new administration must
take quick and decisive action to create a policy climate guided by
science and not ideology, starting with striking funding for abstinence-only
sex education and the appointment federal agency directors-beginning
with the FDA-who respect scientific data. President-elect Obama must
appoint federal judges committed to constitutional rights and the objective
review of evidence. The U.S. must once again support reproductive rights
at the U.N. and in U.S. foreign assistance programs by repealing the
Global Gag Rule and restoring funding to the United Nations Population
Fund. And we must ensure that our nation is represented around the world
by people who respect women’s human rights.
Now that a pro-choice administration
is about to move into the White House, it may be tempting to think that
we no longer have to "worry" about women’s reproductive rights. But
we must resist that temptation and instead pledge to seize this moment
to make sure that this most fundamental and enduring principle is enshrined
in law: At the heart of a free society is our ability to form the
personal beliefs and make the intimate decisions that chart our destinies
and define who we are.