Using Law to End the Ultimate Game of Political Football

And so it begins. Fresh into Barack Obama’s presidency, and the political games around a woman’s reproductive choices have already commenced. As Congress and the President tackle how to best invest billions of dollars to get our economy back on track, Republicans successfully pressured the President and by extension, House Democrats to jettison funds for contraceptives for low-income women from the economic stimulus package. Apparently, they decided injecting $420 million into fighting avian flu would stimulate the economy more.

In his first week in office President Obama felt compelled to sign behind closed doors an executive order reversing the Global Gag Rule which prohibits U.S.-funded organizations overseas from providing or advocating for abortion. For eight years, the gag rule has condemned countless women to illegal abortion, trampled on family planning clinics’ free speech rights, and crippled their efforts to end women’s unnecessary deaths. But the President repealed the onerous policy quietly, with no cameras in the room. It was also late on a Friday, well after journalists had filed their stories for the day – at a time when the U.S. government typically releases information that it wants to bury.

Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court 36 years ago and since that time, abortion has been the ultimate political football in Washington. Pro-choice politicians, including President Obama, campaign in favor of policies that protect a woman’s access to reproductive health care. There is also talk of being weary of the political divisiveness of abortion and wanting the issue out of politics, presumably because there will be some political compromise, a “common ground,” that will end the debate once and for all.

If pro-choice policymakers want abortion out of politics, they should secure these rights into law. As with abortion, people in this country feel quite strongly about their religious faith. Indeed many believe that their own and all of mankind’s salvation depends on adherence to their specific beliefs. But we don’t allow an annual political debate about funding a national church. The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion and as a result, that debate is out of the political realm. So too should be the debate over a woman’s fundamental right to protect her health and make decisions about her reproductive life. Being able to make her own decisions about pregnancy is essential to a woman’s health and her dignity.

Pro-choice lawmakers must not only take corrective steps to right the egregious affronts waged against women’s reproductive rights over the past eight years, but protect those rights into the future by guaranteeing a woman can exercise them by law. Only then will the intractable politics of abortion begin to recede, and we can focus on policies that will improve the lives and well-being of all American families.