In Congress: The year ahead for reproductive rights

January 22, 2008
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Audio ACLU staff discuss the importance of reproductive freedom in ensuring the full-range of civil liberties

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Last year, the 110th Congress held great promise for furthering reproductive rights.  New leadership in the House of Representatives as well as in the Senate buoyed supporters’ hopes that legislators would finally be able to halt the escalating erosion of reproductive freedom.  The challenges encountered in 2007, however, demonstrate that we still have a long way to go. 

As we commemorate the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the second session of the 110th Congress begins.  Now is the perfect time to renew your commitment to reproductive freedom.  Join the ACLU’s Action Network and receive periodic updates about what you can do to push for real change this legislative session.

Below are brief discussions of the major legislative issues concerning reproductive rights to watch in the coming year:

Restore Access to Affordable Birth Control

For years, pharmaceutical companies provided clinics serving low-income women and college students with affordable birth control.  This all changed when a provision in the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act unintentionally prevented these clinics from continuing to receive oral contraceptives at a discounted rate.  As a result, more than three million college students and hundreds of thousands of low-income women are currently without affordable birth control.

On campuses, birth control prices have skyrocketed from $5 or $10 up to $40 or $50, and some colleges have stopped dispensing oral contraceptives altogether.  Meanwhile, many health centers serving low-income women have been forced to cut back on other services, including prenatal care and screening for cervical cancer, to compensate for the rising costs of birth control.

Reproductive rights advocates have pursued numerous avenues to fix this problem, including working with members of Congress to introduce legislation in both the House (H.R. 4054) and Senate (S. 2347); however, the battle to restore access to affordable birth control will continue in 2008.  Restore access to affordable birth control.  Join the ACLU’s Action Network.

Support REAL Sex Education

For those on Capitol Hill who support teens’ access to complete and medically accurate information about reproductive health care, 2007 proved to be a roller coaster.

The REAL Act, a measure that would create the first federal program to provide states with funding for sex education programs designed to help teens make smart decisions about postponing sex and using contraceptives effectively, remained stalled.  Worse still, some leaders in Congress were ready to provide abstinence-only-until-marriage programs with one of their largest funding increases to date.  In addition to being proven ineffective, many of these programs censor information, reinforce gender stereotypes, provide inaccurate and misleading information, and sometimes promote religion. 

The fight for support for effective sexuality education is sure to continue in 2008.  Tell Congress to support REAL sex education, and to put a stop to funding failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programming.

Increase Funding for Family Planning

Last year, when Congress passed its federal spending bill for Fiscal Year 2008, Title X, the nation’s family planning and preventative health care program serving more than 5 million low-income women and children, received its third largest increase in 25 years.  Even with this increase, however, funding for Title X has not kept pace with inflation, and additional increases are still necessary to meet the growing need for family planning services.

Advocates will renew their efforts to expand access to safe, affordable and effective contraception by working to pass the Unintended Pregnancy Reduction Act of 2007.  Introduced in both the House (H.R. 2523) and the Senate (S. 1075), the measure would improve access to contraceptives by strengthening Medicaid coverage for family planning services.  Increase funding for essential family planning services.  Join the ACLU’s Action Network.

Protect Women’s Health, Repeal the Hyde Amendment

For more than 30 years, Congress has banned federal funding of virtually all abortions for low-income women.  Under the Hyde Amendment, a low-income 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.  Changing more than thirty years of bad policy will take real political will and we need your help to make it happen.  Stand up for low-income women’s health.  Sign the petition to repeal the Hyde Amendment.

Rescind the Global Gag Rule

In 2001, President Bush reinstated the Global Gag Rule, which prohibits the United States from granting family-planning funds to overseas health clinics that use their own funds to advocate for legal abortion, perform legal abortions, or counsel and refer women for abortions. 

Not only does the Global Gag Rule threaten women’s health in countries where unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal mortality, it abandons our nation’s deep-rooted commitments to free speech and democracy.

Last year, Congress sought to reverse this devastating policy.  Unfortunately, under the threat of a presidential veto, both the Senate and House dropped provisions that would have allowed overseas health clinics, otherwise ineligible for assistance, to receive U.S.-donated condoms and contraceptives.  Advocates are strategizing for 2008 and hope to build on last year’s efforts.  Improve women’s health care worldwide.  Join the ACLU’s Action Network.

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.

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