Some feminists wondered last week why President Obama overturned the Global Gag Rule the day after the 36th anniversary of Roe, missing an opportunity for some powerful symbolism. But with a press release on the order sent out after business hours last Friday, at 7 p.m., Obama signaled his desire to avoid political football on reproductive rights -- but not to avoid the issue altogether.
“For too long, international family planning assistance has been used as a political wedge issue, the subject of a back and forth debate that has served only to divide us. I have no desire to continue this stale and fruitless debate.
“It is time that we end the politicization of this issue. In the coming weeks, my Administration will initiate a fresh conversation on family planning, working to find areas of common ground to best meet the needs of women and families at home and around the world.
“I have directed my staff to reach out to those on all sides of this issue to achieve the goal of reducing unintended pregnancies. They will also work to promote safe motherhood, reduce maternal and infant mortality rates and increase educational and economic opportunities for women and girls.
Our own Sarah Posner has done some great reporting on the various "common ground" domestic reproductive health bills floating around Washington. Obama could choose to throw his support behind any one of these, or propose an alternative. There is the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act, co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Tim Ryan and Rosa DeLauro. This legislation funds ultrasound equipment, economic support for pregnant women, adoption services, and other programs meant to encourage women to carry pregnancies to term. It also requires clinics recieving federal funding to run women seeking an abortion through a script that focuses on the supposed physical and mental health risks of the procedure. But Ryan-DeLauro does promote comprehensive sex-ed and access to contraceptives, unlike the Senate's Pregnant Women First bill, sponsored by anti-choice Democrats Bob Casey and Ben Nelson. The Casey-Nelson legislation is unlikely to attract the support of a president who describes himself as pro-choice.
Another option, more acceptable to reproductive-rights advocates, is Prevention First, sponsored by Reps. Louise Slaughter and Diana DeGette in the House and Harry Reid in the Senate. Obama, as a senator, was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill, but we'll have to wait and see whether he will prioritize it as president. This legislation is wide-ranging, providing appropriations for comprehensive sex-ed and education about Plan B emergency contraception. It would end insurance company discrimination against women seeking contraception and require all hospitals receiving federal funds to stock Plan B and offer it to rape victims. Prevention First would also expand Medicaid's coverage of family planning services. The hospitals portion of the bill would likely be the most controversial, as Catholic interest groups are already organizing against it.