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.
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