Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion as a woman’s right, will be 36 years old on Jan. 22. The 1973 ruling was wrested from a reactionary bench after years of struggle by women and their male supporters, as well as many legal and medical groups. Ever since, women’s right to reproductive freedom has been under vicious attack by right-wing, racist, anti-woman and anti-choice forces.
In the November 2008 election, voters reaffirmed their support for reproductive rights by defeating anti-choice ballot measures in South Dakota, Colorado and California. Across the U.S. they overwhelmingly chose Barack Obama for president. Obama supports the right to abortion and women’s reproductive health care.
Roll back Hyde Amendment, other restrictions!
A letter to Melody Barnes, head of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, was prepared by the Hyde–30 Years Is Enough! campaign, a project of the National Network of Abortion Funds. Women’s rights and reproductive rights leaders met with Barnes and other members of the Obama transition team in December to begin discussing how to “ensure real reproductive choices for all women.”
The letter states in part: “For more than 30 years, the Hyde Amendment and other funding restrictions have affected the poorest and most vulnerable of low-income Americans, with a disproportionate impact on women of color and immigrant women. The Hyde Amendment denies abortion access to the 7 million women of reproductive age who are currently enrolled in Medicaid. These funding restrictions are the most detrimental of all attacks on safe, legal abortion care, and represent a clear violation of low-income women’s human rights.”
The Barnes letter urges Obama to “strike language in his first budget that blocks women’s access to abortion care, including restrictions on abortion funding for Medicaid-eligible women and Medicare beneficiaries (the Hyde Amendment), federal employees and their dependents (FEHB), residents of the District of Columbia, Peace Corps volunteers, Native American women, and women in federal prisons. Though attached to different funding streams, we consider these restrictions to be a single issue requiring consistent and equal treatment by President Obama.”
The letter to Barnes further states: “By striking funding restrictions, President Obama can place abortion back in the context of health care, thereby setting a new tone and signaling to Congress his commitment to comprehensive women’s health care. [T]his early commitment will bolster the efforts of our diverse and growing grassroots advocacy campaign as we continue educating the public and Members of Congress about the urgent need for a full repeal of these restrictions.”
Only 43 percent of House members in the new Congress are abortion rights supporters. The U.S. Senate now has 40 members who are committed to reproductive rights.
Among the signers of the Barnes/Obama letter are dozens of national organizations such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, Catholics for Choice, the National Organization for Women, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, and Black Women for Reproductive Justice. Dozens of local and regional organizations are also signers.
Bush’s parting blow to women
On Dec. 18 the Bush administration’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a new regulation affecting 17 million poor women–a disproportionate number of whom are women of color–who are enrolled in public health care programs. The restrictive regulation significantly impairs women’s ability to get such basic reproductive health services as contraception, counseling and information necessary to make decisions about their own health.
A Center for Reproductive Rights press release stated: “The new regulation allows people only tangentially related to the provision of health care and an increased number of medical institutions to refuse a woman care based on religious and moral beliefs. HHS claims this will further protect health care providers against discrimination; but in reality, it leaves women who rely on public programs unprotected and seriously violates their rights and needs as patients. HHS also purposely leaves the door open for health care providers to justify refusing a woman basic forms of contraception such as birth control pills and IUDs.”
Advocates for reproductive rights are urging incoming-President Obama to immediately rescind the new HSS regulation. The petition “Urge Obama to Take Action” can be signed at www.naral.org.
Just as it took a mass struggle to win Roe v. Wade 36 years ago, access to full reproductive health care for all women will involve grassroots organizing to build a strong, broad-based coalition for women’s reproductive rights. This struggle will continue on a national and state-by-state basis in order to stop ongoing right-wing, anti-choice initiatives and begin establishing reproductive justice for all women.