The Family Research Council has launched an ad attacking
Senator Obama for his support of the Freedom of Choice Act
(FOCA) – legislation that would simply codify that which the Roe v. Wade decision affords
– legal abortion access for women. The Family Research Council says they want to reduce the number of abortions in this country but attempt to block government from instituting laws, like FOCA, that will actually protect women’s health and lives.
If enacted, FOCA, as a federal bill, would override all
state legislative abortion restrictions – which is especially important (but not only) if Roe v. Wade were to be
overturned. It is a deceptively simple bill that is almost painfully difficult
to read in that it’s hard to imagine women still need this kind of explicit
legislative protection from government control over reproduction. The bill
states that every woman has the
fundamental right to bear a child, to terminate a pregnancy before viability, and
post-viability only when necessary to protect the life or health of the woman. FOCA
prohibits governments at all levels from interfering in those rights. But since
our two presidential candidates hold entirely different positions on Roe v.
Wade and access to legal abortion, FOCA is a critical consideration in this
election season for reproductive and sexual health advocates and anti-choice
The Family Research Council is using FOCA in yet one more
political attack this presidential election season, a $100,000 advertising
campaign trumpeting Obama’s support for the bill. Scott notes
the method behind the madness: "What the Family Research Council will not tell
you is that one of the reasons they want to overturn Roe v. Wade is not simply
to return the issue to the states, but to attempt to pass a federal abortion
ban outlawing all abortions in all fifty states." No doubt that for anti-choicers, FOCA is a step in the wrong direction.
First, some background.
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Roe v. Wade, in theory, strikes as close to a balance as
this country is likely to get between the rights of women to privacy and bodily
autonomy when making the decision to terminate a pregnancy and the rights of a post-viability
fetus that is able to live outside of the woman’s body.
However, Roe, thanks to never-ending state and federal legislative
challenges and an anti-choice movement more suited to crafting scripts for
dramatic storytelling than to advocating for true reproductive health care, has
been chipped away at so steadily that only a shadow of abortion access
protection remains for certain groups of women in this country.
Three years after Roe was enacted, Republican members of
Congress jumped in to mitigate what they saw as too much leeway for women’s
bodily autonomy. The Hyde Amendment passed, barring low-income women protection
from Roe. Hyde prevents federal taxpayer funds from covering abortion services
for women who cannot afford it. What does this mean for the low-income women whose access
to legal abortion was supposedly bestowed by Roe? It means Roe doesn’t exist
for them. Add in various state restrictions including mandatory waiting
periods, coercive ultrasounds, spousal consent (later ruled unconstitutional),
rights of refusal for health care providers who do not support abortion working
for public health care institutions, parental consent laws, mandatory biased
information and finally even a Supreme Court decision upholding
a ban on certain forms of late-term abortion without medical exceptions for a
woman’s health and life and, again, Roe v. Wade is often nothing more than a
hollow promise at this point.
That Supreme Court decision, Gonzales v. Carhart, upholds the so-called Partial-Birth
Abortion Ban – the ban that spurred the re-introduction of the Freedom of
Choice Act in 2007.
Because FOCA would undo years of erosion of the right to
access safe, legal, funded abortion, it pushes every anti-choice button.
According to Celine Mizrahi, Legislative Counsel for the Center for
Reproductive Rights, "FOCA would supersede existing restrictions and prevent
state legislatures from enacting measure that deny or interfere with a woman’s
ability to continue or end a pregnancy – thus avoiding the unjust disparities
that would result from individual legislatures determining the availability of
abortion in their state."
Where do the candidates stand on FOCA?
Laurie Rubiner, VP of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund
says, "Barack Obama has consistently voted in favor of a woman’s right to
choose and supported efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies. Barack Obama is
not only a co-sponsor of FOCA; he says he will sign it into law."
John McCain would not. McCain supports
reversing Roe v. Wade and, as Emily notes, his running mate, Sarah Palin (as
well as the Republican party platform) opposes
abortion access even for women who are the victims of rape or incest.
Anti-choice religious leaders are up in arms – they’ve even sent
a letter to the
110th Congress urging them not to consider FOCA. But what’s at stake
is not only the protection of legal abortion in all fifty states but the fundamental problems anti-choicers have
with insuring women’s access to a full range of reproductive and sexual health
It may go without saying that the primary reason
reproductive health advocates want to see FOCA passed is not just as a protection
against anti-choice challenges to Roe, but as a means to protect women’s health and lives. Access to legal abortion
saves women’s lives, protects women’s health and ensures women and their
families the opportunity to plan for the families they want and care for the
families they have. It’s really that simple.
In countries where abortion is severely or entirely
restricted, illegal and unsafe abortions are responsible for upwards of 70,000
deaths, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher has also found that "reducing
the incidence of unsafe abortion would result in an immediate and substantial
reduction of maternal mortality and improve maternal health."
Anti-choice religious leaders lobbying against FOCA have
decided that this is not at all the case, arguing (without credible evidence)
"we can’t reduce abortions by promoting abortions." It should be noted,
however, that in the next sentence they also state that programs that promote
access to contraception do not reduce abortions either. For them – and
organizations like the Family Research Council – the only way to reduce
abortions is by, well, simply banning them – all scientific and medical
evidence to the contrary.
It is indisputable that access to safe, legal abortion
improves women’s health and lives. If our common goals are to ensure access to
care, promote comprehensive prevention strategies and protect the lives of
women and their families, FOCA would help get us there.
But if this is about waiting out a Supreme Court, which is
only slightly tipped towards safeguarding Roe v. Wade, the anti-choice movement
has a plan. FOCA would codify Roe so that regardless of who the next President appoints
to the court, women’s access to legal abortion would remain in all fifty
states. Without FOCA in place, overturning Roe would result in one of the worst
public health disasters this country has ever seen.
Anti-choice organizations like the Family Research Council
and others are terrified of the power that the Freedom of Choice Act holds. It
is a powerful piece of legislation, to be sure. Its power lies in the
opportunity it brings – ensuring that women, regardless of geography, age,
ethnicity, or income level, have equal access to abortion services, a public
health benefit by any standard.