The Fight for Reproductive Freedom Made Me a Civil Libertarian

April 16, 2004

By Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU

Nadine Strossen, PresidentThere are few things that are decided unanimously at ACLU board meetings.  That's why I was so pleased that all the board members at our meeting agreed to move this year's spring board meeting, regularly held in New York City, to Washington, DC, so that we could all participate in the March for Women's Lives. 

The ACLU has long been a pioneer in advocating for reproductive freedom.  In fact, the ACLU was the first national organization to argue in the United States Supreme Court that abortion should be a constitutional right. Moving our board meeting so that we can march for reproductive freedom is a bit of a tradition at the ACLU. Both in 1989 and 1992 we met in Washington so that we could join prior marches for reproductive rights. 

Since the '70s, my fellow board members and I have stood up to the government when it intrudes on people's private lives. We fight to protect all fundamental freedoms for all people; reproductive rights are part of this broad human rights agenda. It is crucial that the board join in the March, both to send a strong message to politicians across the country and to signal the ACLU's continued commitment to reproductive rights.

I will be proud to march in Washington, not only in my official capacity as president of the ACLU, but also because of my deep personal commitment to protecting reproductive rights. In fact, it was through my involvement in the abortion rights movement in college that I originally became a civil libertarian activist. The first political protest I ever joined challenged the criminal prosecution of a Boston physician who had performed an abortion for health reasons. I went to college in the early '70s, before abortion or other women's rights issues had been decided by the Supreme Court and when performing an abortion, even a medically necessary one, was still a criminal act in many states. I couldn't believe that the law put both the woman's and doctor's freedom at stake for something that was medically necessary. Three decades later, women should no longer face this dilemma. And yet, unless we take action against the increasing restrictions on reproductive rights, women and their physicians will continue to face this same dangerous and unjust situation.

Reproductive rights issues are also what inspired me to pursue a career in public interest advocacy. My first exposure to lawyers in general, to public interest lawyers, and, most importantly, to female attorneys occurred during those early protests. Meeting these committed women opened a new world of possibilities to me, and helped me decide to pursue a law degree.

I am marching on April 25th because we need to send our representatives a message. There's so much opportunity for elected officials to do either great good or great harm to women's right to make decisions about their reproductive lives. If politicians continue to cut back on reproductive rights by throwing up barriers to their exercise, the right to reproductive autonomy will become little more than legal theory with no practical application. By marching, we tell politicians that the right to control our own bodies and lives free from government interference is a fundamental civil liberty that must be preserved for all.

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