Of Counsel, Winter 2005
Message from our President Nancy Northup
As if we didn’t know, the headlines remind us that these are troubled times for reproductive rights. They chronicle the emboldened legislative agendas of the religious right, as well as the debate within the Democratic Party about whether or not to back off from its defense of abortion rights. My reaction to this news is twofold:
- This is no time to retreat from our fundamental commitments to women, to their ability to control the most personal aspects of their private lives, and to reproductive health policies based on science and women’s needs rather than on religious ideology.
- The news is not all bad. Despite a hostile political environment in the White House, Congress, and many states, we should take heart that the Center has been able to win cases, strike down bad laws, and even expand protection for women’s reproductive freedom. Last year, we had ten victories and only three losses out of our overall docket of 31 cases.
We’ve succeeded because we have something going for us that is stronger than partisan politics, stronger than legislatures passing laws based on whatever facts they see fit. And that is the U.S. Constitution. When our lawyers march into the courtroom, they’re armed with this shared text that tells us how we are supposed to live together as citizens in a civil society. Whether we live in red or blue states, whether we’re Christian or Jew or Muslim or Humanist, we agree to its authority.In the courtroom, decisions must be based on facts, reasoned argument, and appeal to constitutional principles. The Center wins because we have these elements on our side.And we win more than we lose because our cases take the debate out of the highly charged arena of politics, away from abstract terms of “right to life” and “pro-choice,” and bring it down to the reality of women’s lives. Our cases demonstrate how bad laws hurt real people. And what we’re striving for at the Center is to use the law to improve the lives of women, day by day, case by case.For example, in Alaska, we struck down a law that required young women under the age of 17 to obtain a parent or judge’s consent before they could receive an abortion. For teens in rural villages, without access to private phones or even mail pickup, having to navigate the court system in search of a judicial bypass practically ensured that their very private matter would become public.In Arizona, we forced the state to fund medically necessary abortions through its Medicaid program. As doctors testified, our victory made it possible for their patients, women with blood clots, epilepsy, heart disease, and other serious medical conditions to get the abortions they needed to save their health and lives. I like to think of the Constitution as the document that brings us back to our best selves. Despite tough odds, despite a hostile White House, Congress, and a Supreme Court on the brink, the Center is going to use our Constitution and use it to win. On the day after President Bush was inaugurated for his second term, we filed a lawsuit against his administration on behalf of emergency contraception. And, with your crucial support, we’ll use the Constitution again and again over the next four years to win reproductive freedom for women all over the world.