Ellen Chesler

Ellen Chesler, a senior fellow at the Open Society Institute, is the co-author of Where Human Rights Begin: Health, Sexuality, And Women in the New Millennium and the author of Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America.

Recent Articles

International Holdout

Twenty-five years ago this December, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a global “bill of rights” that is both visionary and comprehensive. In the waning days of his presidency, Jimmy Carter hurriedly signed the convention and sent it to the U.S. Senate for ratification. But it has languished there ever since, held up by intransigent conservatives opposing both international obligations and women's rights. One hundred seventy-seven countries around the world have signed the treaty, leaving the United States among a handful of so-called rogue states -- including Iran, Somalia, and Sudan -- that have failed to do so. For years the famously cantankerous Jesse Helms led the attack against CEDAW, calling it the work of “radical feminists” with an “anti-family agenda.” “I do not intend to be pushed around by discourteous, demanding women,” he said provocatively on the Senate floor in 1999...

New Options, New Politics

In recent years, medical science has devised new options for very early termination of unwanted pregnancy, measures that did not exist when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. In addition to widening the range of choices for women, these advances--most notably the "morning after" contraceptive and the abortion pill mifepristone (RU-486)--are likely to alter the imagery and the politics of abortion dramatically. Where the so-called pro-life movement has capitalized on a tiny number of late procedures involving fetuses with the features of babies, the new technology makes plain that most abortions involve microscopic embryos. This shifts the moral as well as the medical terrain for most people, as the country's recent debate over embryonic-stem-cell research makes clear. Unless the radical right succeeds in overturning Roe v. Wade, these new scientific developments bode well for the pro-choice movement in this country. Nevertheless, the abortion debate often seems, as Robin Toner put it in...