January 28th, 2009
03:47 PM ET

A president sets the right tone

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Faye Wattleton
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

Rhetoric frames action. President Barack Obama has corrected Bill Clinton’s framework to define White House reproductive policy. This explicitly opens the conversation for the common ground that so many have longingly envisioned and which, in the past, anti-choice advocates have assiduously avoided.

A day after the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Obama lifted the International Gag Rule, an executive order with the force of law first imposed by Ronald Reagan. It extended the prohibition of U.S. funds for assistance to family-planning groups that, with their own resources, provide abortion counseling, referral or direct services. Thirteen percent of maternal deaths worldwide are due to complications due to unsafe abortion procedures, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Restoring funding for international family-planning groups was only the beginning of a broader conversation on family planning.

The new President’s aspirational message, preceding his reversal, assumes that “… we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make.” This common sense call re-framed the widely accepted Clinton mantra to keep abortion “safe, legal and rare,” Mr. Obama rightfully called for policies that go to the heart of the issue, shifting the focus to where society can unite and work for the day when unintended pregnancies are rare, through accurate health information and affordable contraception, and abortions remain safe and legal.

The President’s statement removes the judgmental paradigm that has framed abortion policies of the Bush years and, more importantly, says women should not face the circumstances of an unwanted pregnancy. Oddly, White House and congressional Democrats’ abandoned their attempts to include expanded Medicaid coverage of contraceptives in the economic stimulus package. The measure, according to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, would have saved $100 billion per year in increased government support services resulting from unintended pregnancies.

Also included in the president’s opening statement was the recognition that Roe v. Wade protects “women’s health and reproductive freedom,” reminding Americans of recognizing the centrality of protecting women’s health. Given the Supreme Court’s 2007 Gonzalez v. Carhart ruling, which will allows states to ignore a woman’s health in restricting abortion, he’s setting the framework for debate that will certainly factor in when filling Court vacancies during his term.

Reproductive control is vital to a woman’s ability to forge a dignified and economically secure life. This potential can only be realized in a workplace that guarantees equal opportunity. On this issue, Mr. Obama will send another strong message by making the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, approved by Congress Tuesday, the first bill signed by his administration. A president who begins his term securing reproductive control and fair employment for women is a president who advances another step toward achieving true equality.

Editor's note: You can read more blogs from Faye Wattleton here.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Faye Wattleton • Women's Issues • Women's Rights
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    Abortion should always be a last resort after birth control has failed. It should not be used as a means of birth control. I hope that in our quest to control our reproductive lives we recognize that to be truly responsible we need to be taking proactive actions to prevent pregnancy before the fact instead of running to an abortion clinic after the fact.

    January 28, 2009 at 10:12 pm |
  2. jim Fallbrook CA

    He sets the right tone. Not in my book. Here we have a socialist presidnet who wants to give money to people who don't pay taxes. I guess he has to due to a campaign promise to give welfare to non paying taxpayers. He is following in thfootsteps of Jimmy Carter. I hope he doesn't ruing the country in his 4 years in office. Tax and Spend liberal.

    January 28, 2009 at 9:57 pm |
  3. Gary, from Augusta, Ga.

    The reason why the republicans wont vote for the $825 billion economic aid package or support President Obama because the republicans wants to come up with their own plan and take all the credit to restore the republicans name....
    President Obama please we don't need the republicans for this plan.

    January 28, 2009 at 5:05 pm |
  4. Mike, Syracuse NY

    Amazing the labels used throughout this article: anti-choice instead of pro-life, reproductive control instead of abortion. You claim it is only the pro-life faction which avoids common ground. Yet the merest hint of any restrictions, even common sense ones, send abortion defenders into hissy-fits. One would think that if a baby (yes, baby not fetus) is born alive during an abortion procedure, than that baby is indeed a living person entitled to medical assistance. The pro-abortion crowd (including Obama) would have you withold care, so the baby dies. Whether you agree or not that an unborn child is a life, there is no question that someone born alive is a life! It's an obscene peversion to withhold care Citing the Clinton line that abortions should be 'safe, legal, and rare' is a joke. There have been 50 million abortions in the U.S. since R v W, and currently 1.3 million per year. They may be safe and legal, but they are certainly NOT rare. So where's the reproductive control? 1.3 million abortions per year is anything but control. It shows a lack of control, and a failure of choice. The time to make a choice is before engaging in unprotected sex. If the pro-abortion fanatics devoted even a small fraction of the time, money and energy they spend defending abortion on preventing unwanted pregnacy, we'd have less of both.

    January 28, 2009 at 4:26 pm |