Going on Offense

On Capitol Hill, in the space of just a few hours, it's possible to witness some of the ugliest hostility toward women's reproductive rights in close proximity to the inspired conviction of leaders who firmly believe those rights are fundamental human rights, and deserving of vigorous protection.

The Center's president and CEO, Nancy Northup, traveled to Washington, DC, last week with actor, activist, and A is For founder Martha Plimpton. They brought with them nearly a quarter of a million signatures to the Bill of Reproductive Rights, a testament to the massive—and growing—support for robust and equal protection of reproductive health care. And they carried those signatures into two days of meetings with members of Congress who have made their commitment to reproductive rights clear.

"It was heartening to hear the dedication to women's reproductive health from our Senators and Representatives," says Nancy. "I was truly impressed by their passion and enthusiasm to go on offense for women's rights and health."

These leaders—Senators Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, Richard Blumenthal, Patrick Murphy, Kirsten Gillibrand, Maria Cantwell, and Mazie Hirono, along with Representatives Diana DeGette and Tammy Duckworth—applauded the Center's work, and made one condition especially clear: any effort to secure federal protection would require a groundswell of public support in addition to Congressional sponsorship. All saw our Draw the Line campaign as an ideal tool to coordinate such support.

It was purely a coincidence that Nancy and Martha were on Capitol Hill at the same time that the House Judiciary Committee held public deliberations on a bill proposed by Rep. Trent Franks, the extremist politician from Arizona who for years has been doing everything he can think of to hammer away at access to reproductive health care in the District of Columbia. The bill under consideration now would ban abortion for all women across the U.S. at 20 weeks—right around the time women can get the testing that tells them about their health as well as their pregnancies.

The bill is blatantly unconstitutional, but that didn't stop anti-choice politicians from publicly demonstrating their hostility toward women's issues—and their ignorance of the facts about reproductive health care—during the mark-up.

"It's always upsetting to read about these kinds of hearings," says Martha, "but it's even more galling to be present in the room and to realize that the nation's business is being conducted in this way. While the rest of us are going about our lives trying to find work or feed our kids or pay our medical bills, there are members of Congress actively avoiding doing anything other than divesting women of their rights."

Despite this very public and infuriating display from those who desperately want to turn the clock back on women's health, our visit to Capitol Hill was a huge success.

Says Julie Gonen, the Center's Director of Government Relations: "The congressional leaders with whom we met—many of them veterans of prior legislative battles over women's reproductive rights—were heartened to see the bold and affirmative message of the Center's Draw the Line campaign and pledged their commitment to continue the battle to protect women's ability to exercise their reproductive rights, no matter where in the country they live."

This was the first step—and also a huge step forward—in what promises to be a long and demanding campaign to ensure that the constitutional and fundamental human rights of women to make their own decisions about their reproductive health, their pregnancies, their families, and their future are strongly protected no matter where they happen to live.

But accomplishing this goal has never been more urgent. And, as more and more people stand with us in this effort, it's within reach.