UUWF Advocacy Update: A Full Plate
The UUWF issues survey, which was circulated last year, helps guide our social justice advocacy work on behalf of women and girls. We have continued to focus on reproductive justice, economic justice, ending domestic violence and sexual assault, and will be finding more ways to speak out on the impact of climate change. This is a full public policy plate.
Assaults on reproductive freedom have multiplied on the state level, including the most recent bill passed by the Oklahoma legislature that would have criminalized abortion providers. It was vetoed by the governor. But there is much to watch on the national front in this Presidential election year as well.
There are numerous and repeated attempts in Congress to add and broaden abortion restrictions to federal programs, including hearings held by a subcommittee investigating the legality of AmeriCorps members in New York City community health center who provided compassionate emotional support to women seeking pregnancy termination. Throughout the budget development process, there have been riders (language) prohibiting public financing of abortion services.
While most of the activity on Capitol Hill is uphill and defensive, there have also been proactive efforts to make positive change. President Obama has issued an order mandating overtime pay for jobs previously not covered by this requirement; a little more than half of the beneficiaries will be women workers. The U.S. Senate just passed a bill that lays out a set of rights for victims of sexual assault, including the right to be informed of forensic tests, to prevent victims from being charged for rape kit testing, and to have evidence preserved without charge for 20 years or until the statute of limitations expires. It now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.
And even in the often discouraging arena of reproductive rights, two significant positive measures have been introduced or re-introduced. UUWF has joined a number of other faith based and secular organizations to endorse the Women’s Health Protection Act, a critical proactive bill which would enact protections at the federal level to ensure the right of every individual to make their own decisions about whether and when to have children. It is a bold and major attempt to over-ride some of the most odious state laws that have been proposed, and in many cases passed, in recent years. It would invalidate state TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers), end requirements that doctors have hospital admitting privileges—which has so gutted abortion clinics in places like Texas—and prevent the numerous pre-viability abortion bans that so limit the decision-making agency of women.
Additionally, the UUWF has joined the National Women’s Law Center, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Council of Jewish Women, and other advocates in endorsing the reintroduction of the Access to Birth Control Act, reaffirming the right to obtain contraceptives from pharmacies and requiring the provision thereof without threats, harassment, or outright denial of services.
This year’s version of the bill has added language prohibiting the use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of this law. We will be joining other efforts in the coming weeks and months to object to the use of RFRA to privilege one individual’s religious beliefs over another in exercising her right of conscience in decisions about whether or when to have children.