Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Uruguay Senate Votes to Depenalise Abortion- Breaking News

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Uruguay's Senate has voted to depenalize abortion — a rare step in a Latin American nation. President Tabare Vasquez says he will veto the measure.

Ruling party Sen. Monica Javier says 17 of the 30 senators present voted for Tuesday's bill, which would remove penalties for abortion during the first 12 weeks of gestation.

The country's Roman Catholic Church has crusaded against the measure, which give Uruguay the most liberal abortion laws in South America.

The country now bars abortion in all circumstances.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Gloria Feldt on the Election of Obama

The Tide in the Affairs of Election 2008

Pundits make their living trying to tell us why politics happens as it does. They are always arguing about what the one driving factor was in a given election. Well, take it from someone who has worked in campaigns from the lowliest grass roots to the highest halls of power--not a one of them looks from the outside like what they look like from the inside. I don't care how "perfectly executed" the campaign might be. There's a lot of luck involved and there is never just one deciding factor.

But the biggest factor in 2008 was: it's just damn time.

People are ready. People are fed up. Enough trumped up war. Enough high gas prices and mortgage meltdowns and corporate greed taking the hard working middle class's life savings down with them. Enough slashing and burning of women's rights to equal pay and reproductive justice. Enough of a president who you might want to have a beer with (I personally don't) but who can't string a sentence together, and who squandered America's global standing at the same time he lost his dice roll that our economy wouldn't crash till he got out of Dodge with his cronies' fortunes safe.

The deciding factor in 2008 was simply that "tide in the affairs of men", and more especially, of women, that when it crests, get out of the way because that force for change will not be stopped.

That said, Barack Obama, unlike Al Gore and John Kerry who both snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, ran a strategically brilliant campaign. Obama saw the tide and repeatedly took the wave that leads to fortune. He did what leaders must first and foremost do: create a story we can all see ourselves in. He did it with his personal narrative. He did it with the race speech. He did it by tangibly engaging an enormous chunk of America, including millions of newly activated voters, in his quest.

We must also remember that Hillary Clinton would have represented transformational change too had she become the first woman president. I am sad I won't see her inaugurated in January. But the truth, much as it hurts me to say it, is that it is just damn time in America for Barack Obama.

(The full quote, lest someone accuse me of plagiarizing Shakespeare):

There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
William Shakespeare (English Dramatist, Playwright and Poet, 1564-1616)

Gloria Feldt looks back to Beijing in a post from March 2006

Gloria Feldt is the author of The War on Choice: the Right-wing Attack on Women’s Rights and How to Fight Back and Behind Every Choice Is a Story. She was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1996-2005 and is a Columnist for MaximsNews.

UNITED NATIONS - / www.MaximsNews.com/ 21 March 2006 - Think back with me to September 1995, to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing .

Thrilling and ambitious goals were set for improving the lives of women, and that improves the lives of their families, their communities, and the world.

The official conference was in Beijing , but the much larger convocation of nongovernmental organizations was literally stuck in the mud in Huairu, an hour's drive from the city.

Thousands of us got there early on the morning of 6 September. We stood packed together under a roof of brightly colored umbrellas, jockeying for the few hundred seats inside the auditorium where then first lady of the United States , Hillary Clinton was slated to give a speech.

All those years of clinic defense had taught me how to get through a crowd unscathed. I was fortunate not only to get inside but to get a seat.

The program was running late; Hillary was running even later and the crowd was getting restive. Just as it seemed a revolt might be brewing, Shirley May Springer Stanton, the cultural coordinator of the conference, walked onto the stage and began to sing a capella, ever so softly:

Gonna keep on moving forward, never turning back, never turning back.

Then she asked the audience to join her.

Gonna fight for women’s freedom, never turning back.

Pretty soon the house was rocking.

By the time the first lady arrived and gave her brilliant "human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights" speech, it truly felt like the global movement for women's rights was unstoppable.

It was, you might say, an ovular moment.

Here in the United States , that moment seems long ago.

Our administration's federal budget slashes and gags funding for international family planning services that could reduce the millions of unsafe abortions and risky pregnancies that cause 500,000 women’s deaths each year unnecessarily.

But the U.S. women's movement can take inspiration from working in sisterhood with women from around the globe.

While the United States fails to meet its commitments to the global public-health community, and indeed is rolling back women’s human rights to make their own childbearing decisions every day, many other countries have stepped in to fill the void left by America 's abdication of leadership.

Women's development projects are also fueling economic growth around the world while bringing greater equality to the women in their societies.

Sex trafficking and other acts of violence against women, long merely routine facts of life, are becoming subjects of international media attention and human rights action and female heads of state have been elected in Europe, Africa and Latin America just in the past year.

Maybe in the U.S. next time around?

The recent deaths of Betty Freidan who sparked American feminism’s second wave, Rosa Parks, who showed that one woman can change the world, and Coretta Scott King, whose definition of civil rights always included women’s rights, were a sharp reminder to me that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line.

Televangelist and political power broker Rev. Pat Robertson called feminism a "socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

We can laugh at this outrageous statement only long enough to notice who holds political power in all three branches of the federal government and many sates today.

In the pressure cooker of vilification and political retribution, it is tempting to quit or squabble about strategy.

To question the agenda, to retreat, reframe, retrench—when we know we must always move forward, fueled by passionate commitment for our mission and values.

The global women’s movement--not those who have opposed progress for women--has always advocated for the full panoply of just social policies from economic justice to universal access to quality health care.

And all of us who support it need the political will, courage, commitment, stamina and a never-ending creation of inspiring initiatives that touch real people's lives.

A movement, after all, has to move.

Let us remember, proudly, that we have changed the world -- much for the better -- for justice and equality. That's exactly what scares our adversaries so much.

We will keep on moving forward. We will not be deterred.

I’ll never forget a group of African women at the Beijing conference who told a story about how they stamped out spousal abuse in their village.

The women banded together, took their cooking pots and took up positions outside of the homes of men who had committed violent acts against their wives.

They banged those pots so loudly that the whole neighborhood took note and the men agreed to change their behavior.

Each country has different reasons to bang the pots on this international women's day 2006.

But the refrain for all of us who aspire to global justice for women is the same.

Gonna raise our voices boldly, never turning back, never turning back.

Gonna keep on moving forward, never turning back, never turning back.

Feminist Majority Foundation: Nine New Pro-Choice Democratic Women to Enter Congress

Source: http://feministmajority.org/elections/2008.asp

Dear Congressional Council Members,

Thank you for all you did to help make the 2008 elections a smashing win for feminists. We are all so excited.

We just completed an analysis of the election. Nine new pro-choice Democratic women will be entering Congress: seven in the House [Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ); Betsy Markey (D-CO); Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL); Debbie Halvorson (D-IL); Chellie Pingree (D-ME); Dina Titus (D-NV); and Marcia Fudge (D-OH)] and two in the Senate [Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)], Two more pro-choice women may still win in House races that they are still counting [Darcy Burner (D-WA) and Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH)].

We picked up at least 18 pro-choice votes in the House and 5 in the Senate - with 8 House seats still to be determined and 4 Senate seats. We are still hoping for more gains.

We defeated all 3 anti-choice state ballot measures in South Dakota, Colorado, and California. Actually we smashed the fetal personhood ballot measure in Colorado 73%-27%. Hopefully we will NEVER see it again on a state ballot. In South Dakota we defeated the abortion ban for the 2nd time by a strong 55%-45%. And finally we defeated for a third time the California parental notification initiative, 52.4% to 47.6%. In both the South Dakota and California initiatives the deceptive wording tactics did not work. We are still waiting to see if we finally defeated the Colorado Affirmative Action Ban - we are ahead as they continue to count the votes.

Yet even on this marvelous Election Day we had some crushing losses. Notably Proposition 8 (gay marriage). And too many talented feminist women candidates lost - some in close races. But we will be back - stronger and stronger.

Please visit our 2008 Election Central - http://feministmajority.org/elections/2008.asp - for election results on Ballot Measures, Women Candidates, Reproductive Choice and Balance of Power (Democrats v. Republicans).

We're very excited about the future possibilities. We will no longer have to fight daily to save the gains of the last 40 years. And at last, we will move forward again.

Thanks again for all you do - if you have any exciting ideas for the transition let us know. Let's dream big and then help to make it happen.

For Equality,

Eleanor Smeal
Feminist Majority PAC

Women's eNews: House Races in U.S. Push Women's Numbers to New High

Election Night nudged up the female composition of the next U.S. House of Representatives by three lawmakers, to a record 74, Alison Bowen reports today. But the political gender gap remains wide, with women's share of the House staying at 16 percent.


House Races Push Women's Numbers to New High
By Alison Bowen
WeNews correspondent

(WOMENSENEWS)--The number of women in the U.S. House of Representatives will reach a high of 74 when the victors of Tuesday's elections take office in January.

While marking a gain of three legislators, the results failed to push women's stake into the 20 percent territory considered minimal for exerting significant voting-bloc pressure.

"I think it shows us that victories are incremental," said Claire Giesen, executive director of the Washington-based National Women's Political Caucus. "Most of the time it's two steps forward and one back. We just have to keep at it."

"It's great that we are gaining momentum, because that's important," said Marie Wilson, founder and president of the White House Project, the New York group that promotes more women in office. "But it just really speaks to the fact that we have to do a great deal more if we're going to reach parity in government."

Wilson and others think 33 percent is a better figure to work toward. She says women can take more control when they have one-third of power, as they do in Norway, which has more than 33 percent of women in its legislature.

The elections were nonetheless cheered by groups such as the National Women's Political Caucus and Washington-based political action committee EMILY's List, who expect Congress to provide much stronger support for a woman's right to choose.

One major symbol of that was the victory by Democrat Betsy Markey over Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave in Colorado.

"It's a positive sign for us when we replace women with women who stand for our issues," Giesen said.

Social Issues Flavored Colorado Race
Markey edged out Musgrave by 10 percentage points in a race that featured a wave of negative campaign ads highlighting their contrasting positions on social issues including abortion.

The race drew more than $3 million in independent spending from interest groups, according to a report in the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Musgrave's re-election bid was viewed as a bellwether of the declining influence of social conservatives both in Congress and in Colorado, where the once solidly Republican electorate has shifted to the Democrats.

Musgrave made abortion rights a key issue for her term in Congress and introduced a federal bill to require parental notification for minors seeking abortion.

Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York, said that a higher number of pro-choice politicians "represents a major step toward getting our country back on track and ensuring that our lawmakers have the right priorities, like support for women's health care."

Two factors in particular--a high number of female political veterans and a strong Democratic headwind--helped women in the election. Of the 133 female major party nominees, 96, or 72 percent, were Democrats.

"Women in Congress are disproportionately Democrats, so big Democratic years tend to be good for women candidates," says Susan Carroll, senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in New Brunswick.

Ten More Women in the House
Five women won open House races, where there were no incumbents. And five female challengers unseated incumbents.

Those 10 join 64 female incumbents who were re-elected.

Some of the challengers prevailed over other women--such as Markey v. Musgrave in Colorado--which combined with some women's losses and others' retirements to keep the female percentage of the House stagnant at 16 percent.

Darcy Burner, a challenger in Washington state, is the only race left that is "too close to call" by the Center for American Women and Politics, which tracks women in political office.

Both Burner and Republican incumbent Dave Reichert had 50 percent of the vote with 41 percent of precincts reporting by Wednesday afternoon. Burner worked for Microsoft before running for Congress in 2006, when she lost narrowly to Reichert in a recount.

"She never stopped running," Giesen said. "She brought youth and freshness to the race. I'm really surprised that she didn't run away with a victory."

Democrat Marcia Fudge of Ohio won her race easily against Republican Thomas Pekarek. Fudge filled the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who died Aug. 19 at age 58. Tubbs Jones, a prominent African American House member, was Fudge's mentor.

Democrat Chellie Pingree of Maine secured 56 percent of the vote in her race against Republican challenger Charles Summers.

But Democrat Kay Barnes in Missouri failed to unseat incumbent Rep. Sam Graves, who received 59 percent of the vote. Barnes' support dwindled last month and she was unable to close the gap.

And in Ohio, the race between Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy and Republican Steve Stivers remains unsettled. Wednesday morning, CNN projected that Kilroy had lost but retracted the projection in the afternoon.

Losses for Women as Well
Giesen said she was stunned at the losses of three Democrats: Linda Stender in New Jersey, Judy Baker in Missouri and Christine Jennings in Florida.

Stender, a Democrat, ran for an open seat in New Jersey against Republican Leonard Lance and lost by 10 percentage points, a big gap for those who expected her to win easily.

In Missouri, Baker lost by three percentage points to Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer.

In Florida, Jennings' also was a large loss. She won 38 percent of the vote against opponent Republican incumbent Vernon Buchanan, who received 55 percent of the vote.

Three Democratic candidates finished strongly for House seats. In Florida, Suzanne Kosmas was projected to win by 16 percentage points against Republican incumbent Tom Feeney. In Maine, Chellie Pingree won by 10 percentage points against Republican Charles Summers. And in Arizona, Ann Kirkpatrick won by 16 percentage points against Republican Sydney Hay.

Giesen hoped a Democratic tide would produce upset victories for two Democrats in Ohio: Victoria Wulsin and Sharen Neuhardt. Both women lost, but four other women picked up wins in the state, including Fudge and three incumbents: Republican Jean Schmidt, Democrat Marcy Kaptur and Democrat Betty Sutton.

Two Democrats considered potential upsets were Linda Ketner in South Carolina and Annette Taddeo in Florida. Both lost to incumbents.

Ketner, who challenged Republican Henry Brown, would have been the first openly gay South Carolinian to take office. Taddeo challenged Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has been in office for nearly 20 years.

The White Houses Project's Wilson said she kept her eye on two Western races: Republican Cynthia Lummis in Wyoming, who won by 10 percentage points; and Democrat Jill Derby in Nevada, who lost by 11 percentage points.

Alison Bowen is a New York City-based reporter covering the presidential campaign for Women's eNews. Her work also appears in the New York Daily News.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama Statement on 35th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade Decision from January 2008

Obama Statement on 35th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade Decision
Chicago, IL | January 22, 2008

Chicago, IL -- Senator Barack Obama today released the following statement on the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

"Thirty-five years after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, it's never been more important to protect a woman's right to choose. Last year, the Supreme Court decided by a vote of 5-4 to uphold the Federal Abortion Ban, and in doing so undermined an important principle of Roe v. Wade: that we must always protect women's health. With one more vacancy on the Supreme Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a women's fundamental right to choose for the first time since Roe v. Wade. The next president may be asked to nominate that Supreme Court justice. That is what is at stake in this election.

"Throughout my career, I've been a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive justice, and have consistently had a 100% pro-choice rating with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

"When South Dakota passed a law banning all abortions in a direct effort to have Roe overruled, I was the only candidate for President to raise money to help the citizens of South Dakota repeal that law. When anti-choice protesters blocked the opening of an Illinois Planned Parenthood clinic in a community where affordable health care is in short supply, I was the only candidate for President who spoke out against it. And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.

"Moreover, I believe in and have supported common-sense solutions like increasing access to affordable birth control to help prevent unintended pregnancies. In the Illinois state Senate, when Congress failed to require insurance plans to cover FDA-approved contraceptives, I made sure those contraceptives were covered for women in Illinois. In the U.S. Senate, I've worked with Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on a bill that would make birth control more affordable for low-income and college women, and introduced the Senate version of Representative Hilda Solis' bill to reduce unintended pregnancies in communities of color. As President, I will improve access to affordable health care and work to ensure that our teens are getting the information and services they need to stay safe and healthy.

"But we also know that Roe v. Wade is about more than a woman's right to choose; it's about equality. It's about whether our daughters are going to have the same opportunities as our sons. And so to truly honor that decision, we need to update the social contract so that women can free themselves, and their children, from violent relationships; so that a mom can stay home with a sick child without getting a pink slip; so that she can go to work knowing that there's affordable, quality childcare for her children; and so that the American dream is within reach for every family in this country. This anniversary reminds us that it's not enough to protect the gains of the past – we have to build a future that's filled with hope and possibility for all Americans."


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ipas calls on US President-Elect to be Global Leader for Women's Rights

Ipas calls on U.S. president-elect to be global leader for women’s rights

Ipas welcomes Barack Obama as the next president of the United States. Under President-elect Obama’s leadership, the new administration will be able to restore the United States to the forefront in the global movement to promote women’s reproductive health and rights. Ipas calls on the new administration to take early action to rescind the Global Gag Rule, eliminate abortion funding bans and meet our international commitments to protect women’s health.

“More than 500,000 women have died from unsafe abortion during the eight-year tenure of the Bush administration because they have not had access to comprehensive reproductive health care,” said Elizabeth Maguire, President and CEO of Ipas. “President-elect Obama has an opportunity — and we believe the passion and commitment — to make a huge difference for women’s reproductive health and rights.”

President-elect Obama can take three steps almost immediately following his inauguration to dramatically improve women’s health:

1. Rescind the Global Gag Rule. The Global Gag Rule disqualifies private organizations in the developing world from U.S. funding if they engage in any abortion-related work, even if they engage in this work with their own funds. Eliminating this ban will allow family planning programs to expand their work preventing unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, re-open clinics and outreach services, and enable health-care experts to freely participate in debates to improve health policies for women.

2. End ban on U.S. funding for abortion care. A 1973 law named after Sen. Jesse Helms blocks U.S. foreign assistance from being used for abortion care, referral and advocacy. These activities are legal in the United States and virtually all aid-recipient countries. The Helms Amendment severely limits effort to reduce maternal mortality in countries like Nepal. In 2002, Nepal legalized abortion to reduce maternal deaths and injuries from unsafe abortion. Without the Helms Amendment, U.S. foreign assistance could play an important role in training and equipping health care providers to provide safe abortion care, saving tens of thousands of lives and dramatically reducing unintended pregnancy. In the past decade, another 15 countries have expanded the grounds for legal abortion; the United States should support their efforts to prevent deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions.

3. Rejoin the global community and support international efforts to improve women’s access to family planning and safe abortion care. Before the current Bush Administration, the United States helped shape international agreements that were both essential for women’s health and rights and consistent with fundamental American values and constitutional principles. President-elect Obama can demonstrate his commitment to international cooperation by restoring funding to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, to support the critical work that agency does to promote voluntary family planning and maternal health in 150 countries. Furthermore, we call on President-elect Obama to work with global partners to transform the international agreements the United States has forged and signed into real, lasting improvements for women’s health and rights.

“Ipas’s partners and colleagues around the world — women and health-care providers and policymakers — are eager for new leadership from the United States,” said Maguire. “In the years to come, we are confident that the new administration will provide that leadership. The lives of millions of women, girls and their families are at stake.”

# # #

Ipas is an international organization that works around the world to increase women's ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, and to reduce abortion-related deaths and injuries. We believe that women everywhere must have the opportunity to determine their futures, care for their families and manage their fertility.

Catholics for Choice Statement on U.S. Election Results

Washington DC—Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued a statement today on the US election results and the priorities for the next president.

“Initial results show that 54% of the Catholic vote went to President-elect Barack Obama. This shows that the majority of Catholics voted their conscience when deciding who should be the next president, and ignored the single-issue dictates of a few bishops who declared that it was unacceptable to vote for him because of his prochoice position.

“The next administration will have to work hard to repair the damage done during the last eight years. Undoubtedly, concerns about America’s economic security and military engagements overseas will garner a great deal of attention. However, the next administration and Congress must also work for advances in reproductive health care in the US and abroad. The priorities include:

Providing comprehensive and affordable health care to all Americans. This includes funding for comprehensive sex education and family planning programs that reduce unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion, as well as providing support for women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term.

Restoring the United States’ leadership position on women’s rights, international family planning and global development issues. This includes the restoration of the US contribution to UNFPA and the repeal of the Mexico City policy that restricts US funding for foreign NGOs that work on abortion.

Working towards an end to the culture wars over abortion and towards an era that respects the right of women to access legal abortion in a timely manner. To that end, we need to restore scientific integrity to federal agencies by appointing qualified personnel to leadership roles and advisory committees irrespective of their personal beliefs about abortion and contraception and by appointing judges who will uphold the long-standing precedent of Roe v. Wade.

Respecting the conscience of each American. The next president should remove any refusal clauses affecting federal health programs beyond the traditional exemption for the direct provision of abortion and work to make the equitable provision of reproductive-health services a priority at both the state and federal levels.”


Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well being and respect and affirm the moral capacity of women and men to make decisions about their lives.

Center for Reproductive Rights Letter to President-Elect Obama

November 5, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama:

It is truly an auspicious time in America as we look forward to your inauguration and the opportunity it brings for positive change. I write to urge you to make reproductive health and rights a priority of your Administration. Under your direction, the United States can once again become a leader on these issues.

Founded in 1992, the Center for Reproductive Rights is the only global legal advocacy organization dedicated to advancing women’s reproductive and sexual health care as a basic human right. The Center for Reproductive Rights advances women's equality worldwide by securing reproductive rights in statutory, constitutional, and international human rights law.

Through litigation and advocacy, the Center works to ensure that women have access, without discrimination, to reproductive health information, contraception, abortion,
and obstetrics care. In the last two years, we argued Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) in the U.S. Supreme Court and litigated in state and federal courts on a wide range of reproductive rights issues, including a pending lawsuit against the FDA to grant over-the-counter status to emergency contraception as supported by the Agency's scientific experts. Internationally, the Center works at the United Nations, and has filed groundbreaking cases in the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American human rights system, and has provided legal analysis and support in precedent-setting cases in national courts in Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. We have partnered with women's rights advocates around the world, working in over 50 countries on cases, fact-finding reports, legal publications, and law reform efforts.

As a strong supporter of reproductive rights, you understand the values that underscore them –human dignity, self-determination, equality, and non-discrimination. These principles are embodied in the United States Constitution, one of the world’s earliest human rights documents, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You also understand, however, that the mere recognition of rights is not enough: they must improve the lives and health of women. Access to comprehensive information, contraception, abortion, prenatal, and obstetrics care are critical. To take just one example, we cannot meaningful address the high rates of adolescent pregnancy in this country while at the same time denying
comprehensive sexuality education and supporting ineffective abstinence-only programs. In order for this country to reduce high rates of unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and maternal mortality, and to eliminate the shameful racial disparities in reproductive health, we must recognize a broader vision, guided by human rights principles, grounded in science and not ideology, and reflecting the understanding that access to reproductive health care will improve the lives of women and families.

The United States has been a world leader in championing equality and human rights, and of supporting access to essential reproductive health care around the world. For eight years, however, 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. Decades of hard-won progress have been eroded. 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.

These injustices demand a bold agenda for change. The Center for Reproductive Rights has laid out detailed policy recommendations in our Reproductive Rights Federal Policy Agenda.1 Among all of the positive changes that are possible under your Administration, three stand out for immediate action:

1 Available at: http://www.reproductiverights.org/pdf/FPA_UPDATED.pdf.

1. Promote Reproductive Health Policies Guided by Science and Not Ideology
The policy agenda of the previous Administration was driven by ideology, often in disregard of objective scientific evidence. The detrimental effects of this ideological agenda are particularly troubling in the area of reproductive health. For example, in spite of numerous studies, including a report from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, demonstrating that abstinence education programs don’t work, the previous Administration championed these programs. Additionally, in denying unrestricted over-the counter access to emergency contraception for women of all ages, officials within the Food and Drug Administration, apparently under pressure from the White House, rejected the findings of the FDA’s own scientific review staff.

The Center for Reproductive Rights recommends that you 1) strike funding for abstinence-only programs in the proposed budgets for the Title V Maternal-Child health Block grant and the Community-Based Abstinence-Education programs, 2) appoint agency heads, including the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of the Food and Drug Administration, who will not allow politics to trump science, and 3) that you direct the Secretary of HHS to instruct the FDA to review and evaluate the scientific data underlying the age restriction on over-the-counter access to EC, to ensure that the FDA’s policy is based on
medical evidence and not ideology.

2. Appoint Federal Judges Committed to Supporting Established Constitutional Rights
The importance of judicial appointments to the preservation of reproductive rights in the U.S. cannot be understated. Judges address critical issues, including protection for abortion, issues affecting access to contraception, so-called conscientious refusals to provide health care, and sex discrimination claims. At this time, only four of the nine current Justices of the Supreme Court have expressed clear support for Roe v. Wade, and many believe that the fate of Roe hangs in the balance of the next appointment. Indeed, the Court’s decision in Carhart v. Gonzales (2007) upholding the federal abortion ban, signals five Justices’
willingness to further undermine constitutional protections for women’s reproductive rights and possibly to overturn Roe entirely. One particularly troubling aspect of that opinion is that the Court ignored findings of fact made by lower courts and based on sound medical evidence, and deferred to Congress’ “facts,” some of which were acknowledged to be demonstrably false. As Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent:

‘Today's decision is alarming. It refuses to take Casey and Stenberg seriously.
It tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide
procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) … And, for the first
time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception
safeguarding a woman's health.'

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 the 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 2006, the Colombian Constitutional Court held that country’s ban on abortion unconstitutional, stating that: “Women’s sexual and reproductive rights have been finally recognized as human rights, and as such, they have become part of constitutional law, in turn a basic foundation of any democratic State.” 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, too, should be advancing and not retreating.

The Center recommends that you ensure that nominees to the federal bench, including the United States Supreme Court, will affirm recognized constitutional rights, including women’s right to choose an abortion.

3. Support Reproductive Rights and Health at the United Nations and Within Foreign Assistance Programs

Over the past eight years, the United States has undermined decades of global improvements in women’s reproductive health and in the recognition of reproductive rights as basic human rights. At the United Nations, in meetings to advance consensus documents supporting reproductive rights and health that were agreed to by the U.S in Beijing and Cairo, U.S. representatives obstructed progress by pushing ultimately unsuccessful anti-abortion and abstinence-only agendas. U.S. foreign assistance policy has also reflected extreme ideological positions that have ignored the dire need to make family planning more available in developing nations (at least 100 million couples worldwide have an unmet need for family planning), including the re-imposition of the “Mexico City Policy,” (the Global Gag Rule), and the denial of funds to the United Nations Population Fund ($240 million since 2002).

The Center recommends that you 1) nominate representatives to the United Nations who are committed to living up to the U.S.’s prior commitments to promote and protect reproductive rights, 2) repeal the Global Gag Rule, and 3) restore funding to the United Nations Population Fund.

We hope that your vision for reproductive rights and health will go further than simply undoing the policies of the previous Administration, which continue to inflect needless deprivations. We ask that you work toward a nation and world in which all women are free to decide whether and when to have children, where all women have access to quality reproductive health care, where all women can exercise their choices without coercion or discrimination, and where all women can participate with full dignity as equal members of society.

The Center stands ready to work with you and hope that you will take advantage of the assistance and expertise that we can provide as you move ahead to develop sound policies that reflect both science and respect for constitutional and human rights principles.


Nancy Northup
Center for Reproductive Rights

Center for Reproductive Rights Calls on President-Elect Obama to Restore U.S. as World Leader in Reproductive Rights.

Center for Reproductive Rights Calls on President-Elect Obama to Restore U.S. as World Leader in Reproductive Rights Center Sends Letter Outlining Three Key Steps toward Responsible Reproductive Health Policy

NEW YORK, NY (November 5, 2008) – Today the Center for Reproductive Rights called on President-Elect Barack Obama to champion women’s reproductive freedom and equality and restore America’s leadership on these issues. In a three-page letter, the Center urged the President-Elect to adopt policies that would allow all women to get the safe and affordable reproductive health care they need. The Center also appealed to the new administration to join the growing number of countries and international courts recognizing that reproductive rights are central to a woman’s right to human dignity, self-determination, equality, and health.

“With the election of Barack Obama, the Center for Reproductive Rights looks forward to an end to the Bush administration’s relentless assault on women’s reproductive health and rights. Over the past eight years, while there’s been growing recognition of reproductive rights as human rights around the world, the United States has been moving backwards,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Now under an Obama administration, the U.S. can reverse the eight years of regressive policies and finally return to the stage as a world leader on women’s reproductive health and human rights.”

Click here to watch Nancy Northup comment on Obama victory on YouTube:

The Center contends in its letter that the government cannot meaningfully address the high rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections or eliminate the shameful racial disparities in reproductive health, without adopting policies that ensure a woman’s constitutional rights and are guided by human rights principles. To that end, the Center asks that the new administration immediately take action in three key areas: 1) nominate federal judges who understand that reproductive health is a matter of fundamental rights; 2) enact U.S. policies driven by science and not ideology; and 3) promote reproductive health and rights at the United Nations and in foreign aid programs.

Nominate Federal Judges Committed to Supporting Established Constitutional Rights

Policy Recommendation: Ensure that nominees to the federal bench will affirm recognized constitutional rights, including a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Over the last 35 years since Roe v. Wade was decided, the anti-choice movement has successfully limited women’s access to abortion in numerous ways, including bans on funding, restrictions on young women’s access and state-imposed delays and biased counseling requirements. As it stands now, the legal underpinnings of the right to abortion have been severely weakened and only four of the nine Supreme Court Justices have expressed their support for Roe. In fact in 2007, by upholding the first-ever federal ban on abortion in the case Gonzalez v. Carhart, the Court signaled its willingness to further undermine constitutional protections for a woman’s right to abortion and possibly to overturn Roe entirely. This is in sharp contrast to the global trend toward recognition of reproductive rights as human rights, including recent decisions from the Constitutional Court of Colombia, Mexico Supreme Court, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and European Court of Human Rights.

Promote Reproductive Health Policies Guided by Science, Not Ideology

Policy Recommendations: 1) Strike funding for abstinence-only programs in the proposed budgets for the Title V Maternal-Child Health Block grant and the Community-Based Abstinence-Education programs; 2) appoint agency heads, particularly to Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FDA, who won’t allow politics to trump science; and 3) direct the Secretary of HHS to instruct the FDA to ensure its over-the-counter policy for Plan B is based on medical evidence and not ideology.

The Bush administration’s ideological agenda has been in complete disregard of objective scientific evidence and particularly troubling in the area of reproductive health. Despite numerous studies finding that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are ineffective, the federal government has spent over $1.3 billion to promote them. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly refused to make the emergency contraceptive Plan B available without a prescription to women of all ages even though its own scientific review staff has recommended as much.

Promote Reproductive Health and Rights at the United Nations and in Foreign Aid Programs

Policy Recommendations: 1) Nominate U.N. representatives committed to living up to the U.S.’s prior commitments to promote and protect reproductive rights; 2) repeal the Global Gag Rule; and 3) restore funding to the United Nations Population Fund.

In the foreign policy realm, the Bush administration has adopted programs and polices that deny access to essential reproductive health care and impede progress in the recognition of reproductive rights as human rights. In 2001, Bush re-imposed the Global Gag Rule, banning U.S.-funded family planning groups based overseas from providing any abortion-related services. As a result, organizations that provide not only abortion, but contraception and HIV/AIDS prevention have been forced to close down, leaving countless women with no reproductive health care. In addition, to date, the Bush administration has blocked funding for the international development agency UNFPA, for seven consecutive years, amounting to approximately $235 million in lost U.S. support.

The Center’s letter to President-Elect Obama and its Reproductive Rights Federal Policy Agenda are available online, respectively, at http://www.reproductiverights.org/pdf/Dear President-Elect Obama.pdf and http://www.reproductiverights.org/pdf/FPA_UPDATED.pdf

About the Center for Reproductive Rights

Founded in 1992 in New York City, the Center for Reproductive Rights is the only global legal advocacy organization dedicated to advancing women's reproductive health care as a basic human right. The Center works to ensure that women have access to comprehensive information on reproductive and sexual health, contraception, abortion, prenatal and obstetric care, and that women have access to these services free from discrimination. In the U.S., the Center's highly experienced litigators have helped millions of women and their families by securing Medicaid funding for abortions, striking abortion bans and other access restrictions and protecting teens' access to confidential reproductive health care services and information. In the last two years, we argued Gonzales v. Carhart before the U.S. Supreme Court and litigated over 20 cases on a range of reproductive rights issues.
Internationally, the Center has filed groundbreaking cases in the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American human rights system and before U.N. human rights bodies, and provided legal analysis and support in precedent-setting cases in national courts in Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. Our attorneys have partnered with women's rights advocates around the world, working in more than 50 countries on cases, fact-finding reports, legal publications, and law reform efforts. The Center is headquartered in New York City. For more information, please visit www.reproductiverights.org.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Guttmacher Institute:Abortion Laws Liberalised in 16 Countries Since 1998

Changes Reflect Continuation of Worldwide Trend Toward Greater Access
and Broader Recognition of Human Rights

In the 10 years since the last global review of abortion policies, 16 countries have increased the number of grounds on which abortions may be legally performed, while two have eliminated all such grounds, according to a study released today. An additional 10 countries maintained their existing grounds for abortion, but adopted changes to increase access to abortion, including decentralizing the approval of facilities where abortions may be obtained, expanding the types of providers who may perform the procedures and increasing the range of available methods to include medication abortion. According to authors Reed Boland of the Harvard School of Public Health and Laura Katzive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, the legislative and regulatory changes in the countries included in both the 1998 and the 2008 review reflect a continuing global trend toward liberalization of abortion policies.

An important driving force behind this trend has been the growing concern among regional and international human rights bodies about the negative impact of abortion restrictions on women’s health and well-being. In 2003, the African Union adopted a protocol to guarantee the right to abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, or a pregnancy’s threat to the mental and physical health of the pregnant woman. As of 2007, 21 countries had ratified or signed on to the protocol.

At the regional level, some of the most notable changes in abortion policies occurred in Latin America. In 2006, Colombia’s constitutional court struck down the country’s blanket prohibition of abortion to permit termination of pregnancy when a woman’s life or health is endangered, as well as in cases of rape, incest or severe fetal impairment. In 2007, Mexico City changed its law to permit abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks’ gestation. Five additional Mexican states also added grounds on which abortion is permitted or not punishable. Two countries, however, moved in the opposite direction: In 1998 in El Salvador, all grounds for legal abortion were eliminated with the entry into force of a new penal code. Nicaragua similarly removed all grounds for abortion in 1996.

Procedural and legal barriers have also increased in eastern and central Europe since 1998, though the region’s laws remain among the most liberal in the world. Hungary and Latvia have established requirements that make obtaining an abortion more onerous, such as parental consent for women younger than 16, judgmental counseling and waiting periods. Though abortion on the grounds of social or demographic characteristics in the second trimester remains legal in Russia, the country defined these indications more narrowly, eliminating, among other grounds for the procedure, having a low income, being unmarried or having too many children.

In contrast, all changes in the past 10 years in East and South Asia and the Pacific were toward liberalization. In 2002, Nepal’s law was changed to permit abortion on request during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and thereafter in cases of rape, incest or fetal impairment or if there is a threat to the woman’s life or physical or mental health. In addition, two territories and one state in Australia liberalized their policies.

The authors note that the trend toward liberalization of abortion laws should not mask the serious threats to reproductive rights that are present in many parts of the world. However, they believe this trend will be hard to reverse, particularly as more countries continue to recognize the impact of abortion restrictions on women’s human rights.

“Developments in Laws on Induced Abortion: 1998–2007” appears in the September 2008 issue of International Family Planning Perspectives.