But haven’t we already fought those battles?” I hear this question often when I’m speaking to women’s groups. Since I started my own activism for reproductive rights and health in 1974, one year after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, I sympathize.
Yet the recent U. S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Carhart put reproductive rights, health and justice squarely on the table once again. The Court stripped away the primacy of women’s health as a constitutional right. Congress and states were given permission to practice medicine (on women) without a license. The notion that women are intelligent human beings with moral capacity to make their own decisions about childbearing was thrown out the window by the majority opinion.
Justice Ginsburg’s dissent nailed it: “This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution, ideas that have long since been discredited.”
Still, in this critical election year, Gonzales v. Carhart could be the jolt America needs to start setting a new table on which to secure the human right to reproductive rights, health, and justice for all women for all time. Really — it can be done if we take these five steps:
1. Frame the big picture in a fresh way. You know as I do that abortion isn’t about abortion. It’s about whether women will have an equal place in society. Jewish women have often led the way in changing those ancient notions about women’s place in society that Justice Ginsburg speaks of.
2. Remember that just because legislators can pass abortion bans doesn’t mean they must pass abortion bans. This is a grassroots organizing battle now. The courts are not likely to protect us any more. The Prevention First Act is the centerpiece of our table. This bill should also be filed in all 50 states, even where it has no chance of passage, so we can drive the debate anew.
3. Build the human rights basis for the legal rights, moral framework and practical access to birth control, comprehensive sex education, abortion and economic justice so women can make decisions freely about whether to beget, bear, or not bear a child. For starters, demand that Congress pass the Freedom of Choice Act. Simultaneously, work for similar legislation state-by-state.
4. Watch your mouthpiece. When the media report fairly and accurately on these issues, give them a pat. When they don’t, criticize them. Write a letter to the editor once a month. Call talk shows. Post on blogs.
5. Tell politicians what policies we want. Tell them at town meetings, party caucuses and oneon- one. Ask specific policy questions, then ask the follow up questions so they can’t get off the hook by giving general answers. Remind them you know elections matter and you’ll reward or punish them at the ballot box. Bleak as things might look, it’s our table to set with the agenda of our choice.
Gloria Feldt is the author of The War on Choice: the Right-Wing Attack on Women’s Rights and How To Fight Back and former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She grew up Jewish in small Texas towns and says that experience shaped her commitment to tikkun olam. www.gloriafeldt.com.