Seattle Post-Intelligencer (US), January 19, 2007

OP ED: Roe v. Wade marks 34 years of sensible reproductive health policies

By KAREN S. COOPER

Each year as Jan. 22 approaches, I reflect on the previous year's impact on women's rights and health. Monday is the 34th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.

Many Americans know Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide. Fewer recognize that beyond the legal right to access a safe medical procedure, Roe has allowed women to plan their childbearing and as a result has allowed them to achieve the highest levels of education, to lead in the workplace, to hold public office and to parent as they see fit. I am proud of that legacy and am committed to protecting it for my granddaughters.

In many ways, 2006 was a year of shifting sands for reproductive rights; we made great strides but also faced difficult and sometimes insurmountable obstacles.

At the ballot box, Americans made clear they were tired of divisive attacks on choice by defeating anti-choice ballot initiatives in three states: South Dakota, Oregon and California. Voters also strongly favored pro-choice candidates in federal and state elections across the nation and especially here in Washington state. In August, after years of delay, the Food and Drug Administration finally approved Plan B, the morning-after pill, for over-the-counter sales nationwide.

Despite those remarkable victories, the women's movement also faced challenges and setbacks. Days after Americans voted to protect choice, President Bush appointed Eric Keroack to head the federal family planning programs; Keroack has affiliated himself with an organization that calls contraceptives "demeaning to women." The FDA's ruling on Plan B was undermined by a restrictive age requirement placed on the medication for political, not scientific, reasons. And thinking back to early last year, Bush's hand-picked nominee, Samuel Alito, was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Alito's hostility to reproductive rights already has begun to shift the court toward undermining Roe v. Wade.

In November, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the federal abortion ban case, which could undermine core protections of Roe. The court appears poised to reinterpret the Constitution, ending the requirement that restrictions on abortion contain exceptions to protect the life and the health of the pregnant woman.

While in 2006 reproductive rights supporters took the good with the bad, 2007 already looks more positive. Here in Washington, it appears we will pass legislation requiring schools that choose to teach sex education teach good sex education that honestly informs young people about physical biology, abstinence and contraception. Parents want their teens to get honest sex education in school because they are often uncomfortable having to provide sexual health information themselves.

This legislation has been held up for five years by a small minority advocating for faith-based abstinence-only education in schools. Such programs provide no information about preventing unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases when youths do decide to become sexually active; they often include outdated ideas about gender roles and other inaccuracies.

Nationally, despite threats in the Supreme Court, reproductive rights could be expanded in Congress. Three new pro-choice senators and 23 new pro-choice members of the House could mean positive outcomes for pro-choice legislation. Congress has the opportunity to pass the Prevention First Act, a comprehensive initiative that would help women plan their reproductive lives by providing birth control to those who cannot afford it, supporting public education campaigns about contraception and supporting good sex education.

Nancy Pelosi recently became the first woman speaker of the House in U.S. history. We have an opportunity to put women's rights first in Congress and in state legislatures across the country. If you believe that contraception, sexual health information and safe, legal abortion should be accessible to all Americans, please join me in advocating for sensible reproductive health policies and help ensure that we will have something to celebrate next year, regardless of what happens at the Supreme Court.

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Karen S. Cooper is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.

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