A Quick Sigh of Relief, Now Let's Get to Work Rebuilding Reproductive Rights

The election of Barack Obama heralds at long last a season of
promise and opportunity: the chance to improve the lives of millions of
Americans and people throughout the world by ending the Bush
administration's horrific war on women and making reproductive health a
priority for U.S. law and policy. Yet earlier this fall, I said that no
matter who won in November, those of us on the front lines of the fight
for reproductive rights and health care would have our work cut out for

Clearly we have reason to rejoice the recent sound defeat of two
state ballot initiatives designed as attacks on Roe v. Wade and the
California initiative mandating parental notification. These outcomes
send an unambiguous message to our elected officials that our
government should not interfere with personal and private decisions
about our health and families. There is no doubt that backers of the
South Dakota abortion ban and Colorado's "personhood" amendment had
their sights on the U.S. Supreme Court and overturning Roe. The stakes
were high not only for women and families in these states, but for
women throughout the country.

Fortunately, the voters in South Dakota, Colorado and California
have made it clear that they put the health, safety and privacy of the
women in their states first, above abortion politics. Proponents of
both of these measures would be wise to follow the electorate's wishes
and put these issues to rest.

But even with these victories, and even with this election,
individual state legislatures remain dangerous arenas in which we
struggle to preserve every woman's rights to choose whether or not she
will bear children, and to have the broadest access to contraception,
abortion, health information and pregnancy care. Every year, our
opponents introduce more than 600 anti-choice measures in the states.
Just last month in Oklahoma, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed
suit immediately to block a law that would force a woman to listen to a
doctor describe an ultrasound image of her fetus. And, in a bizarre
Alice through the Looking Glass twist, the same law would prevent a
woman from suing if her doctor intentionally withholds other
information about the fetus, such as severe abnormalities. Fortunately,
we won an order temporarily blocking the law while we prepare for

We know that this coming January will be equally bad or even worse
as our opponents rush to take advantage of the Bush administration's
dangerous judicial legacy: the current Supreme Court and President
Bush's judicial appointees, which make up more than one-third of
sitting federal judges and the most conservative in modern history.

We have suffered under the yoke of an Administration that has
suppressed science to the detriment of health and has done damage to
constitutional and human rights values. Federal court decisions have
undermined the protections established by Roe v. Wade, funding for
basic reproductive health care is inadequate and maternal mortality
rates among women of color remain shamefully high. At the U.N., the
United States has undermined protection for reproductive rights and
health, and restrictions that the U.S. places on foreign assistance
hamper rather than promote progress. All this flies in the face of the
United States' historical role as a world leader in championing
equality and human rights and of supporting access to essential
reproductive health care around the world.

In sharp contrast to the erosion of protection for reproductive
rights in U.S. law, the global trend within United Nations', regional
and national jurisprudence has been towards recognition of reproductive
rights as human rights. Recent decisions by the United Nations Human
Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have found that
denying women abortions in certain circumstances violated human rights
guarantees. In addition, in the last twenty years, 16 countries have
liberalized their abortion laws. At a time when the world is moving
towards greater recognition and protection of these rights, the United
States should also be advancing and not retreating.

Our new administration must take quick and decisive action to create
a policy climate guided by science and not ideology, starting with
striking funding for abstinence-only sex education and the appointment
federal agency directors--beginning with the FDA--who respect
scientific data. President-elect Obama must appoint federal judges
committed to constitutional rights and the objective review of
evidence. The U.S. must once again support reproductive rights at the
U.N. and in U.S. foreign assistance programs by repealing the Global
Gag Rule and restoring funding to the United Nations Population Fund.
And we must ensure that our nation is represented around the world by
people who respect women's human rights.

Now that a pro-choice administration is about to move into the White
House, it may be tempting to think that we no longer have to "worry"
about women's reproductive rights. But we must resist that temptation
and instead pledge to seize this moment to make sure that this most
fundamental and enduring principle is enshrined in law: At the
heart of a free society is our ability to form the personal beliefs and
make the intimate decisions that chart our destinies and define who we

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