Last Sunday, we marked the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that guarantees a woman’s right to choose. Reproductive freedom is at greater risk now than at any time since Roe was handed down in 1973, and family planning is under attack. Women can no longer afford to be silent.
Last year, Republicans passed an endless parade of legislation in the House regarding reproductive rights and family planning, and this year promises to be no better. Many of the Republican efforts go far beyond choice and would impact women’s access to birth control and basic health care, including cancer screenings. The number and variety of their attacks on reproductive care is more than simply breathtaking—it’s dangerous. Meanwhile, Republicans have offered zero substantive bills to create jobs, the No. 1 issue for the American people.
Early last year, Republicans zeroed out family planning funding in the 2011 omnibus government funding bill. This wasn’t funding for abortions – federal law already prohibits that – rather, it was aid for birth control, pre-natal care, and other reproductive health services.
The bill also included the Pence Amendment, which specifically bars funding for Planned Parenthood. The vast majority of services provided by Planned Parenthood are family planning, cancer screening and other non-abortion-related care. This language would have impacted basic health care for millions of women. Fortunately, the Senate defeated it.
In May, the House voted to repeal health care reform and the Republicans approved an amendment that prohibited federal funding to train doctors to perform abortions, even if an abortion would save a woman’s life. The Senate has taken no action on this bill.
In October, the House considered the most dangerous bill of all, the so-called “Protect Life Act,” which many groups are calling the “Let Women Die Act” because it would let hospitals refuse to provide lifesaving care to women who need an abortion and allow them to refuse to transfer them to another institution that would provide care. It also denies women the right to buy insurance covering full reproductive care on the health care exchanges set up under health care reform. Fortunately, the Senate hasn’t taken it up either.
It has become a time-honored tradition to point out that Roe hangs by a thread in the Supreme Court, Whoever becomes president next year will likely determine whether the Constitution guarantees women the right to choose the timing and number of children they will bear. If any of the four Republicans remaining in the race win, they have promised to select Supreme Court candidates who will overturn Roe and have pledged to sign legislation that could restrict women’s access to basic health care.
If Roe falls, the issue will be turned back to the states. NARAL has identified 69 separate anti-choice measures adopted in the states in 2011, even with Roe. Five states have gone so far as to ban abortions entirely after 20 weeks, with no exception for rape or incest or to protect the health of the mother.
Fortunately, President Obama has made it clear that he supports choice and that he believes that reproductive health care needs to be protected and funded.
Last week, his administration reaffirmed that any organization that is not solely religious will have to comply with the preventive care provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including providing access to all FDA-approved birth control medication.
This year could prove pivotal in the fight to protect reproductive rights. For those of us who support Roe, silence is no longer a viable choice.
Carolyn Maloney represents the East Side of Manhattan and parts of Queens in the House of Representatives.
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