National NOW Foundation Times >> Fall 2008  >> Article

Election Could Reverse Eight Years of Damage to Reproductive Rights

By Jan Erickson, Director of Programs, NOW Foundation

NOW Foundation intern Alex Cooperstock took part in an action to raise awareness about right-wing attacks on the birth control pill.
Photo by Melody Drnach
NOW Foundation intern Alex Cooperstock took part in an action to raise awareness about right-wing attacks on the birth control pill.

A new administration and new Congress could act quickly to reverse some of the damage done by the Bush administration and the right wing to women's reproductive heath policies and programs. Just for starters:

Reverse the Global Gag Rule -- The new president, without the consent of Congress, can and should revoke this heinous policy, which prohibits U.S. funding for any international health program that (using its own funds) provides or even discusses abortion services or lobbies their own governments on abortion policy. On Bill Clinton's first day as president, he took action to overturn this rule, but it was reinstated by George W. Bush. Studies of developing countries show that reproductive health programs have been decimated as a result of the loss of U.S. funds.

Reduce Unintended Pregnancy -- Half of all U.S. pregnancies are unintended. The next Congress must significantly increase funding for Title X Family Planning Programs in order to reduce unintended pregnancies that can lead to a lifetime of poverty. For many years, funding has been remained static, despite increase in costs and patient demand. Unintended pregnancy rates for poor women have increased by 29 percent between 1995 and 2002, and NOW urges that at least $1 billion annually be dedicated to Title X.

End Hyde Restriction -- For women who depend on government subsidized health care, the federal budget has prohibited funding for abortion. The new president's budget to Congress should include Medicaid abortion funding for poor women, and restrictions that create great hardship for low-income women -- including the Hyde Amendment -- must be repealed.

Stop Abstinence Funding; Support Comprehensive Sex Education -- The next administration must halt the $183 million taxpayer giveaway to dangerous, ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and replace them with medically-accurate, age-appropriate sex education. Long-term studies have shown abstinence-only programs are ineffective in delaying sexual initiation and may play a role in the widespread incidence of sexually-transmitted infections among adolescents.

Assure Contraceptive Affordability and Access -- Health clinics that serve college students and low-income women have seen a tenfold increase of birth control prices because of a 2005 Deficit Reduction Act provision, which the next Congress must repeal. Congress should reject policies allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill contraception prescriptions, and should require insurance companies that cover prescription medications (including Viagra) to cover prescription birth control on the same basis.

Reform Healthcare and Cover Reproductive Health -- A new president and Congress are likely to tackle reform of our ailing health care (non-) system. It is absolutely essential that the plan guarantee equal access to comprehensive, high quality, affordable and timely reproductive health care that will also reduce inequities in access and health outcomes. To be successful, such a plan must improve quality and control rising costs in our health care system. Benefits must include access to the full range of reproductive health care services, including contraception, pre-natal care and abortion.

Restore Funding to UNFPA -- Withholding U.S. funds from the United Nations Population Fund is another shameful chapter of the Bush legacy. The next president's budget must reinstate annual appropriation to this critical agency, which advances voluntary family planning and maternal health in 150 countries.

Allocate $1 Billion to International Family Planning -- U.S. assistance to international family planning programs has declined under Bush by almost 40 percent. More than 200 million women in developing countries do not have access to modern birth control methods. Control of family size and population growth is key to women's well-being, child education, sufficient food supplies, sustainable economic development, and more. As the richest nation, the United States must take a lead role in generously funding these critically-important aid programs.