By Sam Baker - 01/23/13 01:08 AM EST
Abortion-rights advocates celebrated the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade Tuesday in the wake of another major win — the reelection of President Obama.
Although there have been some sharp disagreements between the Obama administration and outside groups that support abortion rights, they’re undoubtedly on the same page when it comes to the bottom-line issues of legality and access.
“Obama has done more for women’s health than any president in generations,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Obama’s second inaugural fell just one day before the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — the historic decision in which the Supreme Court said states could not outlaw abortion.
Overturning Roe is still the holy grail for conservatives, but in reality, the debate has shifted over the past 40 years from legality to access, as states come to terms with Roe v. Wade but seek to limit women’s access to abortion by forcing providers to close or requiring women to obtain an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion.
Both sides of the debate agree that Obama is a committed supporter of abortion rights. Abortion-rights opponents routinely refer to Obama as the “abortion president” or the “most pro-abortion president in history,” but they acknowledged they're on their heels after Obama's reelection.
“The safety is off on Obama’s agenda,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.
Dannenfelser acknowledged that abortion and related issues — namely contraception — worked against Republican candidates in 2012, thanks to comments by former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) that women cannot become pregnant from “legitimate rape.”
She’s working with candidates to refine the anti-abortion-rights message and bring the focus back to issues like federal funding, where she believes they’ll fare better with voters.
In the meantime, she said, a second Obama term will likely see more federal intervention as states try to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and pass new restrictions on abortion providers and women seeking abortions.
“We need to win some elections,” Dannenfelser said. “I think that Obama will give us a lot of material to work with.”
Abortion-rights supporters praised Obama as a strong defender of Roe, largely by virtue of his two nominees to the Supreme Court. Although neither Justice Sonia Sotomayor nor Justice Elena Kagan answered specific questions about abortion during her confirmation hearing, both are viewed as unlikely to support rolling back the decision.
That leaves abortion rights on something of a precipice, still threatened by a more conservative Supreme Court, if a Republican president is able to replace more liberal justices.
Obama will likely get the chance to make at least one more Supreme Court appointment, but he’d need more than one to reshape the court. The most likely retiree is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so Obama would be replacing a more liberal justice with another liberal. One of the court’s conservative members — Justice Antonin Scalia, perhaps — would have to step down for Obama to tilt the court to the left.
Outside the Supreme Court, abortion-rights supporters still give Obama high marks — but not perfect ones.
“We think he’s done a great job … a couple disappointments, but overall a great job,” said Judith Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center.
Among the disappointments was the decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius not to make the emergency contraceptive “Plan B” — also known as the morning-after pill — available without a prescription to girls younger than 17.
Abortion-rights and women’s-rights groups were upset by that decision, but it has been overshadowed by the administration’s contraception mandate. The policy requires most employers to cover contraception in their employees’ healthcare plans without any cost-sharing. There are exceptions for religious employers.
“We have a great working relationship with the White House on a lot of fronts,” Nancy Keenan, the outgoing president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a recent interview. “Absolutely, unequivocally … I’ve spent time with him, I’ve talked to him, and I unequivocally believe he understands what’s at stake and really does share the value that women in this country should be making those decisions, and not any politician.”
Abortion-rights supporters echoed Dannenfelser’s observations about federal involvement when states try to curtail abortion rights on their own. The administration has successfully fought state-level efforts to cut off Planned Parenthood funding, and supporters hope to see the same strong involvement as Republican governors continue to look for new limitations on abortion.
“The president’s record is extremely strong on these issues,” Planned Parenthood’s Ferrero said.