By Jennie Lusk
It is clear that Congress won’t be able to pass a bill to protect the right to choose, given the GOP’s anti-choice platform and the need for more than a majority vote even for discussion in the Senate.
Some progressives maintain that the lack of protections is the fault of Democrats, that Democrats should have done more over the past 49 years to protect choice–even though the Democratic Party is the only national party that supports choice now and the only party that has consistently done so for all these decades. The criticism has been applied nationally as well as in New Mexico, where we’ve had a Republican governor for 24 of the 49 years since Roe v. Wade was decided. Democratic legislators in New Mexico have fought scores of anti-choice bills just since 1996, when the state legislature started posting legislation on its website. Democrats have warded off parental notification bills, bills banning late-term abortions, bills that would impose “separate offenses for killing unborn children,” bills purportedly designed to protect “pain-capable unborn” children, bills codifying “abortion as evidence-tampering in some cases,” bills banning reproductive services at school health centers, and bills restricting physician admitting privileges for abortions, to name only a handful of the bills from the past 25 years. Nationally it’s hard even to keep count of bills introduced with the aim of restricting choice through the budget process (such as with the Hyde Amendment) and limiting any services tending toward ending a pregnancy for health reasons.
We’re all tense about Democrats’ fragile Senate majority and the extreme fringe readings of the Constitution by the U.S. Supreme Court. Plenty of Bernalillo County Democrats are showing up to canvass, organize, and get out the vote to protect our majorities locally, statewide, and nationally, knowing that footwork as well as money builds support for our principles. We’re building support for these times and into the future despite the constant criticism from some of our best friends and the constant opposition of people who believe they have the right to control someone else’s reproductive choices.
Luckily, we still have separate branches of government–the judicial, legislative and executive branch, and President Joe Biden stepped in July 8 with an executive order to preserve choice in areas he can control without Congressional approval.
His executive order directed the federal Health and Human Services Department to:
- Expand its website to include more information on reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care as well as how to file a patient privacy or nondiscrimination complaint with the HHS Office for Civil Rights. See ReproductiveRights.gov
- Ensure that medication abortion is as widely accessible as possible
- Ensure that pregnant people have access to full rights and protections for emergency care, including under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA)
- Expand access to the full range of reproductive health services, including family planning services and providers, such as access to long-acting reversible contraception like intrauterine devices (IUDs)
- Ensure that the Affordable Care Act is used across all 50 states and the District of Columbia to provide coverage of women’s preventive services such as free birth control and contraceptive counseling
- Launch outreach and public education efforts to inform the public of ways to access to reproductive health care services
- Protect patient privacy including transfer and sales of health-related data as well as sensitive health information
- Issue guidance on how privacy laws protect health information
- Recruit volunteer lawyers to represent people who travel out-of-state to seek abortion
- Ensure that HHS-funded providers and clinics have appropriate training and resources to handle family planning needs
- Distribute $3 million in funding to bolster training and technical assistance for the nationwide network of Title X family planning providers
The presidential executive order directed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to protect consumer privacy of those seeking reproductive health care, including combatting digital surveillance as well as protecting against fraudulent schemes and deceptive practices; and to issue a how-to guide for consumers on steps they can take to make sure they’re protecting their personal data on mobile apps.
Democrats acting alone have not solved all our problems. It’s almost impossible to do so when there’s strong opposition to our goals, values and principles by the other major party. But the President’s immediate use of his authority to respect privacy, autonomy, freedom, and equality demonstrates a bit of what Democrats can do with more votes and more progressive involvement.
Why not acknowledge the good the president and the Party have done and are doing? Let’s let our elected officials know we are with them and will support them in efforts to protect our right to choose, join in spreading the word and turning out the vote in November. Maybe after November we could even begin changing the laws through the federal legislative process–that is, get laws passed that codify the right.