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Gone Too Far? Reproductive Politics in the Time of Obama

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Written by On The Issues Magazinefor RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the  original post.

Originally written by Carole Joffe for On The Issues Magazine.

UPDATE, 11:07AM, Monday, January 23, 2012: On January 20, 2012, to the relief of many reproductive health organizations, the Obama Administration announced that it would not grant most religious organizations the greatly expanded exemption from contraceptive coverage that had been sought by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

What about abortion gives it staying power as the central issue in domestic politics, even in the period of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression of the 1930s? This is a question well worth pursuing.

I sounded a much more hopeful note in my recent book, Dispatches from the Abortion Wars. The book was started in the administration of George W. Bush, a particularly harsh time for the reproductive justice community. I finished the book in the first months of the presidency of Barack Obama, ending on a note of "cautious optimism" about a turnabout for the fortunes of reproductive health services and particularly for the provision of abortion. Candidate Obama, after all, had forcefully voiced his support for legal abortion, and nothing -- at the time -- seemed to be worse than the endless attacks on reproductive health services (not just abortion, but family planning , sex education, condom distribution for HIV patients and more) that were a key feature of the Bush presidency.

Quoting from the distinguished historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's work on an earlier period of abortion conflict in 19th century America, I even speculated that we might be entering a period in which abortion and related issues would no longer be "the central drama of (our) culture." Given the devastating recession that had already become very evident around the time of the 2008 election, I, like many others, reasonably thought that the economy would in fact become the "central drama."

But very soon after the 2008 election, it became very clear that social conservatives were not going away. On the contrary, they seemed more energized than ever. It also became clear that Obama the president was not going to be the forceful defender of reproductive rights that many of his supporters, including myself, had fantasized.

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