On the 34th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade: New Year, New Congress, New Possibilities

Document Date: January 22, 2007

ACLU and Reproductive Rights >>PODCASTS
Anthony D. Romero and Louise Melling on the ACLU and reproductive rightsSondra Goldschein on the real-life impact of reproductive freedom

> The World We Want: Statement from Louise Melling
>The World We Want: Discussion Guide

>The World We Want: Action Alert

> Roe v. Wade: 34 Years Later
> Washington D.C.: A Different Buzz
> California: A Woman Knows Best
> Mississippi: A Dream for Mississippi
> Washington: Affiliate Hopeful about Comprehensive Sex-Education

As the 110th Congress convenes this month, there is renewed hope that the erosion of women’s reproductive freedoms by federal lawmakers will cease for at least the next two years. With the ascension to power of Representative Nancy Pelosi, a staunch supporter of reproductive rights and the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, a strong family planning advocate, in the Senate, we can all breathe just a bit easier.

Indeed, instead of the repeated assaults on reproductive freedoms that have become commonplace during the years that anti-choice forces controlled Congress, we expect the new leadership to advance measures to expand access to some important reproductive health services. And equally critical, we anticipate that the new leadership will block anti-choice measures so that many will never see the light of day.

Yet, on this 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, our optimism must be tempered by an understanding of the broader political context. Anti-choice forces still control the Executive Branch and their supporters in the House and Senate will labor mightily to advance their extreme agenda and prevent any attempts to increase access to reproductive health care.

Thus while we look forward to a brighter year for women’s reproductive rights, the battle for the future of reproductive freedom has not yet been won.

What follows is an overview of some of the legislative issues and measures that are on the horizon for 2007. Some issues are not yet ripe for grassroots action, but stay tuned for more information and sign up for the ACLU Action List to find out how you can become engaged and help ensure the world we want for reproductive freedom.

Support Prevention First

Introduced on January 4, 2007, by Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nevada), the Prevention First Act (S.21) is a broad package of measures aimed at improving women’s health, reducing the rate of unintended pregnancy and reducing the need for abortions. We expect the introduction of a similar bill in the House of Representatives in the very near future.

Prevention First would:

(1) increase funding for the National Family Planning Program (“Title X”);

(2) expand Medicaid family planning services for low-income women;

(3) end insurance discrimination against women by requiring private health plans to cover FDA-approved prescription contraceptives and related medical services to the same extent that they cover prescription drugs and other outpatient medical services;

(4) improve awareness about emergency contraception;

(5) require hospitals receiving federal funds to offer emergency contraception to women who survive sexual assault;

(6) provide funding for grants to public and private entities to establish or expand teen pregnancy prevention programs and for comprehensive sexuality education;

(7) require federally funded programs that teach about sexual health and behavior or that teach abstinence-only-until-marriage to provide medically accurate information.

Contact your Senators and ask them to support women’s reproductive health by becoming a co-sponsor of this bill.

Meet the Reproductive Health Care Needs of Women in the Military

Current law prohibits women from obtaining abortion care at U.S. military hospitals, even if they pay for this care with their own private funds. For military women and dependents stationed overseas, this restriction poses grave health risks as local facilities are often inadequate or entirely unavailable. At a time when we are expecting so much from U.S. Servicewomen and military families, it is particularly critical that the federal government take positive steps to meet their reproductive health care needs.

We are hopeful that this Congress will reverse the abortion ban for women in the military in the coming months. Stay tuned for more information, updates and action items.

Ensure Abortion Care for Low-Income Women

For 30 years, Congress has banned public funding of virtually all abortions for poor women. The prohibition, named after Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois, an anti-choice legislator, who retired from Congress last year, excludes abortion from the list of comprehensive health services provided to low-income women on Medicaid. Under Hyde, a poor woman can rely on Medicaid to absorb health care costs associated with carrying a pregnancy to term; however, if she decides instead to end a pregnancy, with a few rare exceptions, coverage is denied.

To mark the 30th anniversary of this law, the reproductive rights community is raising awareness about the impact of the prohibition and asking federal and state lawmakers to repeal the public funding ban. Although it is unlikely that the amendment will be repealed this year, this educational effort will help to create the momentum necessary for repeal in the near future.

Contact your members of Congress and ask them to lift the ban on abortion funding for poor women.

Stop Funding for Dangerous Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs

Since 1996, the federal government has spent more than one billion dollars to fund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The ACLU opposes funding for these programs because they contain medical inaccuracies, violate First Amendment guarantees, stigmatize and exclude gay teens, and censor information that could benefit young people.

Over the next several months, the pro-choice coalition will work with members of Congress to increase oversight of abstinence-only-until-marriage funding, require abstinence-only programs to provide medically accurate and complete information, and explore opportunities to fund better and more comprehensive programs that give teens the information they need to lead healthy lives. Stay tuned for more information.

Beware of Possible Anti-Choice Measures

Although pro-choice leaders can now more readily control which legislation moves in Congress, in some instances, particularly in the Senate, individual members can still force lawmakers to consider dangerous measures that will curtail reproductive freedom.

We will remain vigilant and prepared to defeat extreme measures that remain anti-choice priorities. These include the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, a dangerous bill that would restrict a teenager’s ability to obtain an abortion outside of her home state with or without her parents’ knowledge, and the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which mandates the provision of misleading information to women.

Become a Reproductive Freedom Fighter

Help us protect your right to reproductive freedom throughout the coming year. Receive regular updates on federal legislation and become part of the ACLU Action Network.