Obama, Democrats and the Base: Women's Health Community

This is the second in my series to examine and highlight the achievements President Obama and the Democratic Congress have made together for Americans who are considered the core base of the Democratic party.  Friday, I wrote about the perspective of the labor community.  Today, I want to cover another vital part of the Democratic base: pro-choice voters and women's rights advocates.  When it comes to women's medical privacy and reproductive freedom, this quote from the President seems apropos:
We got so many things done so quick, people forgot.
Indeed.  Let's consider the battle royal in favor of a women's right to control her own pregnancy, and the right of parents to family-planning:

President Obama and the Democratic Congress eliminated funding for ineffective abstinence-only programs (Obama had proposed eliminating it completely), provided $114 million for evidence based sex education programs, expanded funding for family planning under Medicaid and provided an additional $10 million for Title X family planning, boosting total funding for it to $317 million.  USAID's international family planning budget was increased by $30 million.  As part of the same budget, Congress lifted the DC ban on abortions that had been in place for 20 years.  Since 1988, Congress had prevented Washington, DC from using its own funds to provide abortion services for women.

On March 11, 2009, President Obama signed legislation passed by the Democratic Congress boosting funding for the UN family planning program to a record $50 million.  This is a program Bush had de-funded entirely during his presidency.  Congress later passed a spending measure increasing that to $55 million, and expanding international family planning funding overall by the US government to $648 million.

On January 23, 2009, President Obama signed an executive order rescinding the global gag rule, freeing international family planning organizations to advice women and families on all options available to them, including a safe and legal abortion.

The Department of Health and Human Services repealed a late Bush-era rule that would give pharmacists and other Medical professionals the ability to discriminate against patients with prescriptions for birth control, for example.

The Democratic Congress and this President also restored access to affordable birth control for poor and young women.  From a case study on the issue by Planned Parenthood:
In March 2009, Congress stood up for women and passed a no-cost provision in an appropriations bill to ensure access to affordable birth control. President Obama, a strong supporter of this commonsense fix who, as a senator, had sponsored legislation to restore access to affordable birth control, signed the bill on March 11, 2009.
Planned Parenthood also tells us about the FDA under the Obama administration granting the right to emergency contraception without a prescription to women 17 and older, after a judge's order to do so from a case that originated under George Bush.  The Obama administration chose not to appeal the ruling but instead to protect women's right to emergency contraception over the counter.

There is no doubt that the road to progress has been bumpy.  Recently, there has been complaints from the pro-choice community that the newly opened federally funded high-risk pools under the new health reform law does not allow coverage for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother.  The health reform law itself, and federal law in general, however, ban taxpayer funded elective abortions, and while the health care reform law provided for insurance companies participating in the health insurance exchanges to keep accounting to show that federal subsidies are not being used to fund abortions (language by Ben Nelson) once the exchanges open in 2014, there is no such provision for the interim high risk pools.

The health care reform debate itself had been affected by the abortion debate.  Thanks to anti-choice Democrats whose votes were needed to pass overall health reform that actually meant a great deal for women's health, the country's policy on not using public resources to fund abortions remains in place.  Women's rights advocates everywhere, myself included, would like the Hyde amendment repealed, but we have so far not had the votes nor the popular support to do so.

Nonetheless, President Obama and the Democratic Congress as a whole have worked to support women's reproductive health.  So long as we are talking about women's health and reproductive freedom advocates, there is no more lasting legacy of a President than his appointments to the US Supreme Court.  NARAL Pro-Choice America seems to have been satisfied in Justice Kagan's pro-women credentials:
Elena Kagan's writings indicate a respect for women's freedom and privacy as defined by Roe v. Wade--and the writings are consistent with the pro-choice position adopted by the Clinton White House.

These writings show a mainstream view that the majority of Americans shares. When it comes to protecting women's health, Kagan is in the same company as the doctors from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Justice John Paul Stevens.
The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of our rights, including that of women.  President Obama's other appointee to the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor also satisfied the pro-choice community that she would, on the nation's high court, uphold a woman's right to medical privacy.  Planned Parenthood hailed Justice Sotomayor's confirmation thusly:
Judge Sotomayor is a distinguished and accomplished judge with a long record of carefully considering the cases and facts before her, following the law, and respecting precedent. During her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Sotomayor reiterated that she recognizes a constitutional right to privacy.
President Obama is likely to get at least one, if not two, more opportunities to appoint Supreme Court justices before we get to 2012.  Can we really afford to play with fire here and risk a Republican Senate?

For anyone concerned about women's rights and women's health, including and especially reproductive choice, it should be of grave importance to look at the combination of factors above.  Not only has a Democratic administration, backed up by a Democratic Congress, been successful in reversing the global gag rule and increase funding for domestic and international family planning, they have lifted a 20-year old DC ban on abortion funding, and made birth control accessible and affordable.  They have prioritized and funded comprehensive sex education.  They have passed a health care bill that came up short on abortion, but requires insurance companies to cover basic maternity care.  These things matter significantly in the lives of women and families.  And these things matter to the advocates and activists who work tirelessly to earn those rights every single day.

There is a radical Republican party now -- so radical that they not only are anti-choice, but believe that women who have been raped should be forced to bear the child of the rapist.  If they regain power in either house of Congress, they will not hesitate for a second to cut off all funding for family planning, for evidence-based sex education, and for poor women's access to birth control and contraception.  They will undo every progress we have seen President Obama and the Democrats make for women's health.  Pro-choice, pro-women Supreme Court nominations?  Forget about it if the Republicans take power.

What hangs in the balance in November is not anyone's personal feelings but the very future of this country and the choice between moving forward and sliding back.  Let's move forward.

Like what you read? Chip in, keep us going.

The Merits of Appointing Elizabeth Warren Through Regular Process

The Rise of Anti-Intellectualism on the Left