Reproductive Rights – Indivisible, With Liberty and Justice For All

Shira Saperstein

Reproductive rights are about nothing less than the ability to make decisions about love, sex, and family without government interference or discrimination. That means marriage equality is a cornerstone of reproductive justice.

Reproductive rights activists around the country celebrated the decisive defeat at the ballot box on November 4 of attempts to ban or limit abortion rights in South Dakota, Colorado, and California.

Unfortunately, four other ballot initiatives–to ban gay marriage and
adoption by unmarried couples–succeeded. These initiatives–in
California, Arkansas, Arizona, and Florida–were defeats not only for
the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, or GLBT community, but
also for the reproductive rights community and for anyone who believes
in freedom, equality, and fairness.

Reproductive rights mean more than the right to terminate a
pregnancy, as explained in the Center for American Progress’s 2006
publication, "More Than a Choice."
In fact, a progressive reproductive rights agenda should encompass the
ability to become a parent and to parent with dignity, to determine
whether and when to have children, to have a healthy pregnancy, and to
have healthy and safe families and relationships.

All of these issues were at stake in the 2008 ballot
initiatives-both the measures that voters rejected, and the ones that
passed into law. Specifically:

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  • South Dakota‘s Measure 11 would have banned
    abortion with nominal exceptions for rape, incest, and the life or
    health of the woman. Designed as a direct legal challenge to Roe v. Wade,
    the ban clearly would have interfered with a woman’s ability to assess
    her own life circumstances and decide whether to become a parent. By
    impeding a physician’s ability to provide a pregnant woman with all
    appropriate medical care, it also would have jeopardized the right to a
    healthy pregnancy for women who want to carry current or future
    pregnancies to term. Voters rejected this dangerous law by 55 to 45
    percent.
  • Colorado‘s Amendment 48 would have
    defined an embryo as a person, giving legal rights to every embryo
    beginning at fertilization. The impact of this "personhood" approach
    would have gone far beyond outlawing abortion. Bestowing legal rights
    on embryos would have prohibited the use of several types of birth
    control, and some practices to address infertility. It also might have
    prevented doctors from treating ectopic pregnancies, thereby
    threatening women’s future fertility and even their lives. This law
    would thus have obstructed many women from preventing a pregnancy, some
    women from ending unwanted pregnancies, and other women from becoming
    parents when they desperately wish to do so. Voters rejected the
    "personhood" amendment 73 to 27 percent.
  • California‘s
    Proposition 4 would have changed the state constitution to require
    doctors to notify parents before performing an abortion on a minor.
    This proposed law ignored the rights of young women to make their own
    decisions about whether or not to become parents. It also would have
    undermined ethical high-quality health care by forcing health providers
    to violate patient confidentiality, and it would have placed vulnerable
    teens at risk for family violence, homelessness, and forced reporting
    of abuse under unsafe circumstances. Recognizing that this law would
    not appropriately address at-risk family situations or create
    healthier, happier families, voters rejected the amendment 52 to 48
    percent.

 

In all of these cases, voters recognized what was at stake, and
voted against restrictions on reproductive freedom. But in four other
cases, that didn’t happen:

  • Arkansas residents voted to prohibit unmarried
    people, whether single or in heterosexual or same-sex couples, from
    adopting or fostering children. This effort, motivated by blatant
    homophobic intolerance, will prevent many caring, responsible adults
    from becoming parents. Sadly, this mean-spirited measure passed at a
    time when 3,700 children in Arkansas are in state custody awaiting
    loving homes.
  • In Arizona, California, and Florida,
    voters approved constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage.
    These laws undermine families and relationships, and in many cases, the
    ability to become a parent or to parent with dignity. These laws also
    relegate one group of people to second-class citizenship, denying them
    rights and responsibilities that most Americans take for granted simply
    because they fell in love with someone society deems the wrong person.

Reproductive rights are about far more than abortion — they also
encompass contraception, adoption, and intimate relationships,
including marriage. The ability to manage our fertility through
contraception and, when necessary, abortion, enables us to plan our
families and to determine whether, when, and with whom to have
children. Adoption, too, allows caring adults to become parents and
form loving families. And marriage provides legal and social benefits
that make it easier to care for one another and to raise children with
the security and resources they need to thrive.

These rights are indivisible, and defending them comes not only from
a concern for women or for the GLBT community. Reproductive rights are
about nothing less than the ability to chart one’s own course in
life–to make decisions about love, sex, and family without government
interference or discrimination. That ability is central to core
American values of freedom, equality, and fairness. It is time for
progressives to join together in support of a complete and
comprehensive reproductive rights agenda that advances liberty and
justice for all.

This article was first posted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

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