Reclaiming the Agenda
Of Counsel, Fall 2003
Message from our President Nancy Northup
With the White House, Congress and many state governments controlled by those hostile to reproductive rights, it can seem as if our opponents hold all the cards. And that they play those cards whenever they can—from abstinence-only sexuality education, to anti-choice judicial appointments, to bills creating federal crimes on abortion, to gutting funding for the United Nations Population Fund.To win this struggle, we need to bring our own cards to the table and show them face up. We need to talk about a simple fact: 1 in 3 American women will have an abortion by age 45. As I speak with people about this issue, I’ve been struck by how many of us do not know that basic fact. For good reason—it’s not a routine part of the public discussion. Women who have had abortions don’t see themselves as 1 in 3. Politicians (if they know it) don’t talk about it. They should. We all should. Any discussion about abortion is about a safe and legal medical procedure that affects 1 in 3 women. We also need to talk about our values. Women’s health, of course, is a crucial one. And there are others.Liberty. In a free society, “intimate and personal choices” are for you to make, not the government. Decisions about bearing children, contraception, private sexual conduct, and family relationships shape who you are and the path your life takes. And that is why, as Justice Kennedy recently wrote, Roe is at heart about “the right of a woman to make certain fundamental decisions affecting her destiny.”Religious Freedom. There is diversity of opinion among religious people and faiths about the morality of abortion, contraception and sexual relationships. While our anti-choice opponents act as if they alone speak for those of faith, the truth is that major religious denominations representing millions of Americans support a woman’s right to choose, believing that abortion can be a faithful and morally affirmative choice. Again, recognizing that the freedom to believe—or not believe—in a particular faith is a cornerstone value, the Supreme Court in Roe rightly declined to endorse a particular religious view on when life begins.Equality. Women cannot live in equality with men unless they can control their reproductive lives. Even a cursory look around the world makes that clear: in many of the countries where we work, women can’t negotiate their sexual relationships, let alone make decisions about contraception and abortion. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, women’s lack of autonomy and status correlates to the denial of their right to make reproductive choices.Liberty, religious freedom and equality. These are the values you and I share. They are also the values held by many who don’t necessarily think of themselves as reproductive rights advocates. By reaching out and talking about our shared values, you and I can forge new partnerships, new collaborations—and new victories.