Updated February 16, 2011
January 22, 2011 marked the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This landmark ruling, along with the earlier Griswold v. Connecticut, recognized a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Ensuring that women are trusted to make those decisions is a cause that stills needs our support all these years later. Choice and preventive care are once again under siege in Congress.
As candidates, Republicans promised to focus on jobs and the economy. As members of Congress, they are focusing on an overreaching social agenda. Many Republicans hit the campaign trail in 2010 promising to focus on jobs and the economy. Those priorities have taken a back seat since the convening of the 112th Congress, where social issues and other political battles have risen to the top. One piece of the anti-choice agenda, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, was introduced as H.R. 3 – the third bill introduced this session, behind only the continuing resolution (H.R. 1) and healthcare repeal (H.R. 2). Priority 1: Irresponsible spending cuts. Priority 2: Roll back progress on healthcare. Priority 3: Silence women and threaten their rights by attacking choice and preventive care.
DC’s lack of self-determination has made it a target for conservative overreach. Local government should decide local laws. Washingtonians, with no voting voice in Congress, are powerless to resist when conservatives push through laws to force right-wing policies on the District just to score points with their base at home. Over the years, Congress has stymied LGBT equality, limited syringe access, and forced DC to adopt a private school voucher program. Congress once even prohibited the DC government from counting ballots in a local referendum that conservatives were afraid they had lost. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3) would reinstate the ban, lifted in 2009, on DC using its own, locally-raised tax dollars to support abortion services.
Reproductive freedom is preventive care. It can save lives. Reproductive freedom isn’t about making a choice just for the fun of it. It’s about empowering women to care for their bodies and lives in a meaningful way. Abortion is ideally rare. Contraception may not be for everyone at all times. But both should be safe, legal, and recognized as important forms of preventive care. No woman should be denied contraception or abortion because politicians have taken it upon themselves to get between her and her doctor to make these intensely personal decisions – especially in questions of life and death. The so-called Protect Life Act (H.R. 358) includes an expansive idea of refusal clauses (sometimes called “conscience” clauses) that could extend to situations where abortion care would save a woman’s life.
Nor should a woman be denied care because of her financial status. Publicly-funded family planning is critical. Title X is a public health program founded in 1970 to provide comprehensive family planning services for those in need. Some clinics receiving Title X funding provide abortion care or referrals for such care. But millions of women have relied on Title X for far more than that, including annual exams, cancer screenings, contraceptive services, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. It’s important that as many women as possible have a place to turn for this vital care. The Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act (H.R. 217), however, would shut doors to Title X clinics at a time when they are more critical than ever. President Obama has prioritized the program, having recently requested a $9.9 million increase (to $327.4 million) despite massive cuts to discretionary spending in other areas.
The House of Representatives is currently leading the anti-choice agenda in Congress.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3) was the first out of the gate. It would resurrect the failed “Stupak ban” from the healthcare debate, banning even private coverage of abortion care, and adds a new tax penalty to ensure that becomes a reality. It also makes permanent the current annual ban on federal funding known as the “Hyde Amendment” and resurrects a funding ban for the District of Columbia. Finally, it expands refusal clauses (sometimes called “conscience” clauses) that allow healthcare providers to refuse to provide abortion services.
Then came the Protect Life Act (H.R. 358) – a gross misnomer. It does nothing of the sort. In addition to recycling the “Stupak ban,” its idea of a refusal clause could extend to situations where abortion care would save a woman’s life.
It’s important to note one small victory achieved against these two bills thus far: the sponsors have been forced to back off an effort to redefine rape that would have had a devastating impact on abortion services available to victims of sexual assault. They originally wanted to restrict funding to cases of “forcible rape,” begging the question of when could rape could possibly be non-forcible.
There is also the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act (H.R. 217) – a direct attack on legitimate family planning providers, like Planned Parenthood, who play a critical healthcare role for millions of women that goes far beyond abortion care or referrals for such care. Title X clinics provide a wide range of services, including annual exams, cancer screenings, contraceptive services, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Title X has been in place for over 40 years.
We are likely to see additional action taken in the House as the 112th Congress progresses, including through the continuing resolution (H.R. 1) and the appropriations process.
It’s yet unclear how the anti-choice agenda will take shape in the Senate.
Contact your Representative and Senators and tell them reproductive freedom is preventive care. Let them know that millions of women are counting on them to stand up against the anti-choice agenda. Urge them to oppose legislation including the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3), the Protect Life Act (H.R. 358), and the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act (H.R. 217). Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining how ensuring a healthy community is dependent on maintaining choice and preventive care.
American Civil Liberties Union
Center for Reproductive Rights
NARAL Pro-Choice America
National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association
Planned Parenthood Action Center
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
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