National NOW Times >> Summer, 2001 >> Article
Reproductive Rights Status Report: Outlook
by Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director
The assault on women’s
reproductive rights is escalating even more rapidly with an anti-abortion
rights president in the White House and a majority party in Congress that
opposes reproductive rights and has no fear of a presidential veto. A
substantial number of bills and regulatory changes have been initiated
that undermine women’s access to reproductive health services--many of
which cleverly camouflage their actual intent.
- One positive note was struck when the Supreme Court, on April 16, let
stand a U.S. appeals court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the
Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). The challenge to FACE
was brought by 25 anti-abortion rights activists who participated in
blockades of an Englewood, NJ clinic in the mid-90s.
Personhood - On April 26, the House passed (252-172) the Unborn
Victims of Violence Act (H.R. 503), sponsored by Rep. Lindsey Graham
(R-SC), that attempts to establish for the first time in federal law a
fetus, or even a fertilized egg, as a legal person with rights separate
from those of the pregnant woman. If H.R. 503 becomes law, the rights and
health of women would be infringed upon as they have been in states where
fetal personhood laws have been adopted. A very close vote is expected in
the Senate, and George W. Bush has promised to sign the bill.
Global Gag Rule - Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and 72 co-sponsors
in the House, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and 18 co-sponsors in
the Senate, have introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act (H.R.
755/S. 367) to overturn Bush’s reimposition of the global gag rule on
international family planning programs. It would prohibit restrictions on
foreign non-governmental organizations that limit freedom of speech and
democratic decision-making. In an encouraging win, the House International
Relations Committee added the language of the act to the State Department
authorization bill, expected to come to a vote on the House floor shortly.
Terrorist Web Site Decision - NOW Foundation is
participating as an amicus requesting the full 9th Circuit Court of
Appeals to re-visit the March 28 ruling of its three-judge panel that the
dangerous Nuremberg Files Web site is protected under First Amendment free
speech guarantees. The court also received a brief from 59 members of
Congress asking for a review in light of congressional intent to protect
reproductive health care providers under FACE. The site contains detailed
information about women’s health clinic personnel presented as a wanted
poster, with lines crossing out doctors and clinic staff who have been
Contraceptive Coverage - Bush’s budget proposes
dropping a requirement that 250 insurance companies provide prescription
contraception coverage for 8.7 million federal employees. The announcement
was a great disappointment to reproductive rights advocates and bill
sponsor Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) who fought hard over several years to get
the requirement adopted.
Anti-Mifepristone Bill - The RU-486
Patient Health Safety Protection Act (S. 251/H.R. 482) was introduced by
Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) and Rep. David Vitter (R-LA) in early February.
It would stipulate a series of restrictions on the use of mifepristone by
reproductive health care providers that would severely limit availability.
The bill’s sponsors and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson
said that they have "safety concerns" about mifepristone, despite the fact
that extensive clinical trials in the U.S. showed the drug to be extremely
safe and effective.
Emergency Contraception - Sen. Jesse
Helms (R-NC) is sponsoring new legislation to restrict minors’ access to
contraception even though teen pregnancy rates are at a record low--due,
in large part, to improved access to family planning services. The
deceptively-titled Schoolchildren’s Health Protection Act (S. 74) would
deny funding from the U.S. Department of Education to any state or local
educational agency that provides emergency contraception or a prescription
for emergency contraception to a minor on the premises of an elementary or
secondary school. The bill is on the Senate calendar and could come up at
On Feb. 14 the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy and
the Reproductive Health Technologies Project submitted a formal petition
to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the status of
emergency contraception from prescription-only to over-the-counter
availability. The FDA is expected to take at least several months before
making a decision.
Teen Endangerment Act - The so-called
Child Custody Protection Act was re-introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
(R-FL) as H.R. 476 and could come up at any time. It would prohibit anyone
from transporting or assisting in transporting a minor across state lines
to obtain an abortion in violation of the home state’s parental
involvement laws. A similar bill (H.R. 1218) passed the House in the 106th
Congress by 270-159, but was not taken up by the Senate.