Get Out The Vote: Focus on Reproductive Rights
This post is part our weekly Get Out the Vote 2012 series, focusing on ways to promote civic engagement in your Jewish community and highlighting portions from the RAC’s Get Out the Vote 2012 guide. Today’s post focuses on reproductive rights, which is one of the many issues you can talk about as part of your voter education efforts. Check back every Monday for new updates.
The candidates and pundits engaged in the 2012 presidential campaigns promised that this campaign would feature a serious and laser-focused commitment to the core issues that face America: the economy, jobs, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So imagine my surprise as the campaigns have spent entirely too much time debating a woman’s right to privacy, a woman’s right to receive contraception as part of her healthcare plan, a couple’s right to decide if, when and how to raise a family, and yes: a woman’s right to decide if an abortion is the right decision for her without interference by legislation.
As Reform Jews, we believe women are commanded to care for the health and well-being of their bodies above all else. Additionally, Mishnah Ohaloth 7:6 forbids a woman from sacrificing her own life for that of the fetus, and if her life is threatened, the text permits her no other option but abortion. If the mental health, sanity, or self-esteem of the woman (i.e. in the case of rape or incest) is at risk due to the pregnancy itself, the Mishnah permits the woman to terminate the pregnancy. It is due to the fundamental Jewish belief in the sanctity of life that abortion is viewed as both a moral and correct decision under some circumstances. This same sanctity underscores the vital need for medically accurate sexuality education and for accessible and affordable family planning services.
So this year, while our efforts should be focused on how to continue to improve our economy and protect those most vulnerable among us, we must also be concerned about candidate’s opinions on reproductive rights.
How have our candidates and political parties fared? The Republican candidates have made statements far to the right of the general public’s views on abortion and birth control. In debates, the three final front-runners (Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and the now-presumptive nominee Mitt Romney) all stated their interests in pursuing stricter abortion policies at state and federal levels, their opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s inclusion of contraception, and, most alarming, their absolute misunderstanding of the ways in which circumstances can drastically affect a woman’s right to choose and a clear lack of knowledge of the basics of contraception and reproduction.
Additionally, the Republican candidates have made brash statements about the elimination of reproductive health services available to low-income women, thereby making these services appear to be unnecessary. As recently as March, when asked what he would do to reduce the deficit, Romney declared: "Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that," as if a woman’s health care was expendable and unnecessary.
Conversely, President Obama has expressed his unwavering support for Planned Parenthood and for the preservation of policies supporting reproductive rights. In reaction to Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood, he released a video message to supporters of the organization. His address included the following excerpt:
“So we're grateful that, through it all, you never forgot who you're fighting for: The woman with a new lease on life because a mammogram caught her cancer in time; the woman who can sleep easier at night because of a cervical cancer screening; the woman who is able to choose when to start a family, because she could afford contraception…
…If you truly value families, you shouldn't play politics with a woman's health. It's why I know that Planned Parenthood will continue providing care, no matter what. I know you'll never stop fighting to protect the healthcare and the choices that America's women deserve.”
However, the Obama Administration does not have a perfect record of support for reproductive rights. In December, after the FDA released its recommendation that emergency contraception be available over the counter for women of all ages, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rejected their suggestion and limited the availability to women over 17. This politicization of science at the expense of women’s rights is both irresponsible and unexpected from an Administration claiming to fully support women’s health. If the Obama Administration wants to truly show its commitment to these issues, then Secretary Sibelius must accept the FDA’s recommendation and allow for emergency contraception purchases over the counter for all ages.
But the issue of reproductive rights appears in other places on the ballot, not only at the top with the presidential candidates. Dozens of states have restrictive ballot initiatives scheduled for the 2012 election, including multiple “Personhood Amendments,” which would define life at the point of conception, thereby criminalizing abortion and other reproductive health services. For a complete list of initiatives in your state, visit NARAL.
Your community can organize around the issue of reproductive rights by getting involved in a state-level ballot initiative campaign, hosting an issue night or planning other programs. To learn more about how your congregation or organization can promote civic engagement this election season, download your copy of the RAC’s Get Out the Vote 2012 guide now at www.rac.org/vote.