It’s only been 100 days, but already reproductive freedom has come a long way. The first 100 days of the Obama administration have brought us more victories than we had in the eight years of the previous administration, and now seems like a good time to recognize and celebrate our success.
On his first Friday in office, President Obama rescinded the Global Gag Rule, restoring U.S. funding to international organizations that use their own, non-U.S. dollars to provide, refer for, and/or advocate for safe and legal abortion in their countries. This decision will both increase women’s access to desperately needed family planning services, such as contraceptives, HIV-AIDS prevention, and maternal care; and reaffirm the United States’ commitment to free speech and democratic participation.
At the same time, President Obama committed to reinvesting in the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, which is widely considered the best delivery system for international family planning funds worldwide. Also in the international realm, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been vocal in her support for reproductive health care and family planning services abroad and at home and has made it clear that reproductive freedom will be an important tenet of U.S. foreign policy.
Fortunately, the good news hasn’t been confined to our foreign policy. On March 11, President Obama signed the FY2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, which, among its myriad provisions, restored access to affordable birth control for all health care providers that serve low-income women and men and all college and university health clinics. The Act also provided the first-ever (!) cut to the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program and increased funding for the Title X Family Planning Program by $7.5 million. These additional funds will help clinics meet the needs of low-income women and men who require comprehensive family planning services, such as counseling, contraceptives, education, and preventive health screenings, and who would otherwise be unable to afford these basic health care services.
Meanwhile, on March 10, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its proposal to rescind the Health Care Denial Regulation. As it exists now, the rule appears to permit institutions and individuals to deny women access to birth control and, moreover, to refuse to provide information and counseling about basic health care services, including information about abortion. The Bush administration pushed the regulation through in the name of religious freedom, but for years, federal law has carefully balanced protections for individual religious liberty and patients’ access to reproductive health care (PDF). The regulation takes patients’ health needs out of the equation. We hope that the Obama administration will soon follow through and rescind this dangerous and unnecessary regulation.
After all that, the Obama administration did not rest on its laurels. Following a March 24 federal court decision, last week the FDA announced that it will soon make emergency contraception available without a prescription to 17-year-olds. The agency also will evaluate lifting all age restrictions on the drug.
And, finally, just this week, the Senate confirmed a pro-choice Secretary of Health and Human Services.
It’s been a whirlwind, but rewarding, three months. We finally have a White House that cares about women’s reproductive health care needs. No doubt, there is more work to be done and many challenges in our future. But, today we can sit back for just a moment and revel in what it means to have a pro-choice president. All in all, it’s been a good hundred days for reproductive freedom.