15 December 2010

Right Readies its Anti-Abortion Fight

It's no surprise, but it's still shocking: with just weeks to go before the start of the 112th Congress, conservative leaders are busy putting the pieces in place for an all-out, multi-tier war on reproductive rights.

With Republicans about to take control of the House, a tighter margin of Democratic leadership looming in the Senate and a significant rise in the number of anti-abortion governors across the country (up to 29 from 21), conservatives understand that they are sitting on a remarkable political "opportunity" to push for policies that limit access to and funding of abortions at both the state and local levels. And they plan to capitalize on it.

In the House, moves are already being made to lay the foundation for a more dedicated assault on reproductive rights: this week, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) was named chairman of the influential Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, which has control over private health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. Pitts is a staunch conservative with a zero pro-choice rating; he was co-author of the famed "Stupak amendment" and has been described by some as “one of the most anti-choice members of the House.” His selection as chair of this important subcommittee "presages a major shift on abortion and family planning," according to The New York Times, and Pitts has already announced that he will use his new position to push for a ban on the use of federal subsidies “to pay for any abortion, or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion.” (A stance that's so 2009, mind you, when the issue became a sticking point in health care reform, or better yet, 1976, when the Hyde Amendment, which already bans federal funding for abortions, was established.)

And though races at the state level garnered significantly less attention through the mid-term elections, the results have left local pro-choice advocates in a position where they're likely to be facing "the fight of their lives,” as Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America told Politico. “We did see, as a result of the election, a significant change in the composition of statehouses," Crane noted, and a soon-to-be-released report from NARAL points out that the number of states with "fully anti-abortion governments" (where both the legislatures and the governor oppose abortion rights) now stands at 15 -- up from 10 prior to the election.  Add to that the fact that we've now got a full 29 (29!) states with anti-abortion governors coming to or retaining power, and it becomes clear just how significant the battle to protect reproductive rights at the state level is going to be.

Devastating news? Well, it should be. But the trouble we're facing at the state level is not new: for decades, states have remained the site of most reproductive rights struggles; in 2008, all but six considered enacting some form of anti-choice legislation. (Yes, that's anti-choice action in 44 states.)

Because the Ms. Foundation has long known that the states would remain a significant battleground for reproductive rights, our core focus since 1989 has been to provide strategic support to state and local organizations across the U.S. -- many of them led by young women of color -- that are uniquely positioned to push back against increasingly restrictive policies. They are organizations like COLOR -- a Colorado-based group led by young Latinas that partnered with Choice USA this past election season to defeat the so-called “fetal personhood” initiative, which would have placed fetal rights at the beginning of biological development and destroyed abortion rights in the state (all without touching federal policy). And groups like SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, which is working to build a powerful movement in Georgia to respond to immediate threats to reproductive rights -- like racist state legislation that likened abortion to eugenics, defeated earlier this year -- and organize for long-term systemic change.

We support these groups not just because they are effective at combating state-level anti-choice measures (and they are); we fund them, too, because they are expert at mobilizing, and elevating the solutions of, those who stand the most to lose from such policies: low-income women, women of color and immigrant women. Placing these long-excluded voices at the center of the fight is among the most powerful weapons we have against the Right's attacks on women's lives; when all women have the power to advocate for our health -- and the health of our families and communities -- we will have built, at long last, a movement for reproductive justice that every woman can call her own.

With anti-abortion advocates making public their plans to push hard at every level to roll back rights, it's more important than ever that those of us who believe in reproductive and social justice push right back. We must invest in and support organizations that are working to protect our right to choose, ensure our access to reproductive health services, and build a movement that takes the diverse realities of all of our lives into account. Their work is what makes a just future possible for all us; without their efforts, we have much to fear indeed.

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