How to Restore America's Position as a Leader on Reproductive Rights

With the election of Barack Obama, women around the world can heave a collective sigh of relief and look forward to an end to the Bush administration's relentless assault on women's reproductive health and rights. It's been a very long and destructive eight years. While the rest of the world has been moving forward in a growing recognition of reproductive rights as human rights, the United States has moved backwards.

In the past two years, the United States Supreme Court -- with two new Bush justices -- issued Gonzales v. Carhart , a decision that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called "alarming," which she said represented antiquated and rejected notions of a woman's place in the family. At the same time, the Constitutional Court in Colombia said that protecting reproductive rights is a direct path to promoting the dignity of all human beings.

We need to get back on that direct path. Under the leadership of President-elect Obama, the United States has the opportunity to again take the world stage as a leader in promoting women's reproductive health, equality and human rights.

Make no mistake, our country's new vision for reproductive rights and health needs to go further than simply undoing the policies of the previous administration. The Obama administration must work toward a nation and world in which all women are free to decide whether and when to have children, where all women have access to quality reproductive health care, where all women can exercise their choices without coercion or discrimination, and where all women can participate with full dignity as equal members of society.

President-elect Obama is a strong supporter of reproductive rights and understands the values that underscore them – human dignity, self-determination, equality and non-discrimination. These principles are embodied in the United States Constitution, one of the world's earliest human rights documents, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He also understands, however, that the mere recognition of rights is not enough: they must improve the lives and health of women.

Access to comprehensive information, contraception, abortion and prenatal care are critical. To take just one example, we cannot meaningfully address the high rates of adolescent pregnancy in this country while at the same time denying comprehensive sexuality education and supporting ineffective abstinence-only programs. In order for this country to reduce high rates of unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and maternal mortality, and to eliminate the shameful racial disparities in reproductive health, we must recognize a broader vision, guided by human rights principles, grounded in science and not ideology and reflecting the understanding that access to reproductive health care will improve the lives of women and families.

We urge President-Elect Obama to lead the nation toward that vision, beginning with three positive changes that cry out for immediate action.

Create a policy climate guided by science and not ideology: Strike funding for abstinence-only sex education and appoint federal agency directors -- beginning with the FDA -- who respect scientific data.

Appoint federal judges committed to constitutional rights and the objective review of evidence: This begins with the U.S. Supreme Court, whose decision last year upholding the federal abortion ban ignored finding of fact made by lower courts and based on sound medical evidence, and deferred to Congressional ideology.

Support reproductive rights at the U.N. and in U.S. foreign assistance programs: Repeal the Global Gag Rule and restore funding to the United Nations Population Fund.Ensure that our nation is represented around the world by people who respect women's human rights.

The United States can once again become a leader in supporting reproductive rights and ensuring access to this critical health care. It's not only change we can believe in, it's change we must demand. Our daughters and granddaughters' futures depend on it.


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