On Tuesday, June 3, Rewire and Americans for
UNFPA joined together to host an online forum on global women’s health in American politics.
Our forum began with a video statement from Anika Rahman (below), President of Americans for UNFPA, and the insights of Democratic and Republican activists about their parties’ treatment of women’s issues. Anika Rahman has been watching the comments section to follow the discussion
and respond to your ideas on how to prioritize women’s health internationally.
Anika’s Introduction, Part 1
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Anika’s Introduction, Part 2
Today, we have the insights of Darlee Crockett into the Republican Party and its recent struggles over women’s health and rights. We’ll follow up in the coming months with a contribution from a member of the Democratic Party. Please feel free to share your thoughts on both parties in your comments.
Darlee Crockett, national chair of Planned Parenthood Republicans for Choice, responds:
"No American woman should
be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic
condition. I believe, therefore, that we should establish as a
national goal the provision of family planning services…..to all who
want but cannot afford them."
"We need to make population and family planning household words.
We need to take sensationalism out of this topic so that it can no longer
be used by militants who have no real knowledge of the voluntary nature
of the program but, rather are using it as a political steppingstone.
If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter."
If I were to ask most people
if they could identify the American presidents who spoke these words
I suspect you might guess Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton, or other Democratic
But think again: the first
statement was made by Republican president Richard Nixon and the second
by Republican president George H. W. Bush. I offer them to you
as an important reminder of what the Republican Party once was and the
leadership it provided in both domestic and international family planning
programs as well as other woman’s rights issues. The Republican
Party even endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment in earlier platforms
and was more progressive in their statements about women’s rights
than the Democrats in party platforms during the 1960’s. This
was the Republican Party I belonged to and proudly supported.
Sadly, I have witnessed the changes in the party and the party platforms
through the years as the New Right and the Religious Right merged forces
to control the party structure.
The first anti-choice plank
appeared in the Republican platform at the convention in 1976 even though
support for the Equal Rights Amendment remained that year. Alarmed
at the party’s new direction, a loyal group of moderate pro-choice
Republican women put up a valiant fight against these platform changes.
Unfortunately, they were beaten back by well-organized right wing forces
who stacked the platform committee and controlled the convention. These
platform battles would be repeated year after year, culminating in the
1992 Houston convention where Pat Buchanan gave his famous "culture
wars" speech. This was my first convention and a rude awakening.
It was an ugly display of animosity toward moderates in the party.
It also gave an unflattering bird’s eye view to the rest of the country
of exactly what had happened to the GOP. Republicans lost the
presidency that year.
The platform battles continued
in subsequent years with several pro-choice Republican groups fighting
the good fight….each time being sent to the back of the bus with
their existence hardly acknowledged. At the 2000 Republican convention
in Philadelphia I was walking down the street wearing my "Republicans
for Choice" button and was stopped by a bicyclist who was riding next
to the curb. He said "Excuse me, could I take a closer look
at your button?" After looking closer a smile crossed
his face and he remarked, "I didn’t know there were any pro-choice
Republicans. That’s great to hear."
The party platform and loud
voices of the far right can easily convince the country that there are
indeed no pro-choice Republicans left in the party. That is simply
not true. A recent poll by a respected Republican polling firm
shows that 72% of Republicans believe that the decision to have an abortion
should be left to women, their doctors and their families without government
intrusion. Be that as it may, Republican platforms have continued to
call for making all abortions illegal and have expanded to include statements
on contraception, abstinence and sex education, among others.
There are just four paragraphs
under the heading of "Women’s Health" in the party’s most recent
93-page platform. Reproductive health issues are not included
in this section of the platform which I think is less a reflection on
Republicans than a gradual evolution of how we treat these issues in
our culture. Over the years, and perhaps because of conflicting views,
we have somehow separated a woman’s reproductive organs from the rest
of her body as though her overall health is an entirely separate matter.
Our responsibility must be
to stress that reproductive health issues are as much a part of total
women’s health as issues dealing with heart health or any other part
of the body. In this framework perhaps we might even find some
The world of abortion politics
may be with us for a long time. But there are other issues over which
we can come together in positive ways to improve women’s health.
I think it is safe to say that we can all agree the need for abortion
is a result of unintended pregnancy. Unintended pregnancy is an area
in which we can make improvements both domestically and internationally.
Polls show that there is overwhelming approval for government supported
family planning programs in both parties. Surely, this is an issue
of women’s health on which we could come together and improve the
lives of women and their families.
Too often, attitudes about
abortion have been allowed to influence our actions toward preventive
measures. A good case in point is the current discussion in Congress
regarding the distribution of HIV/AIDS money in Africa. It appears
that negotiations have resulted in situations where an AIDS infected
mother could receive the appropriate drugs paid for by U.S. funds, but
not contraceptives to prevent further pregnancies. We must do
better than this.
As Republicans we talk a lot
about personal responsibility. I have always felt that one of
the greatest examples of personal responsibility is the woman who walks
through the door of a family planning clinic in order to prevent an
unintended pregnancy. I hope there is a day in the future when
members of both political parties will consider it their responsibility
to help this woman achieve her goal. It will be great for women’s
health and the health of our country.
Join the Conversation! Respond to Anika and Darlee in the comments below, and Anika will answer your questions and engage your ideas from 1pm to 4pm EST on Tuesday, June 3.