By Michelle D. Schwartz,                                                           AFJ Director of Justice Programs

I am a product of ‘80s television.  And so, whenever I get good news and bad news at the same time, the theme song from the Facts of Life invariably comes into my head.  You know the one:  “You take the good, you take the bad, you take ‘em both, and there you have the facts of life ….”

roelogoAs I contemplate the news on reproductive rights for women in Albuquerque and Texas, I can’t help but sing that theme song.

You take the good.  In Albuquerque, voters defeated, by a margin of 55 to 45 percent, an unconstitutional ban on abortions after 20 weeks.  The Albuquerque ballot measure was the first of its kind—an effort to ban abortions at the municipal level, thereby opening a new front in the war on women’s right to control their own bodies.  For today at least, we hold that front.  As NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said:

We hope today’s resounding defeat of this abortion ban sends a clear message to the extreme forces around the country now trying to impose their agenda on cities around this country. When voters hear the real stories of real women and families facing these difficult decisions, they understand the danger and complexity of putting government between women and their doctors at these moments.

You take the bad.  Many Texas abortion clinics will continue to be shuttered because of the Supreme Court’s failure to overturn a terrible Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision regarding the Texas law known as HB 2.  As Alliance for Justice noted in a recent report, the Texas law

requires abortion providers to meet impossible requirements—such as acquiring admitting privileges at a hospital, even when the closest hospital is more than 30 miles away, and even though hospitals are free to deny admitting privileges based on anti-choice institutional views. The law has already forced many clinics to close down, leaving thousands of women without access to abortion services.

And Alliance for Justice’s new film Roe at Risk: Fighting for Reproductive Justice  documents the harms this law will cause for women throughout Texas.

While U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel issued an injunction blocking the law, the Fifth Circuit allowed it to take effect pending its consideration early next year of the merits of the appeal of Judge Yeakel’s decision.  In an opinion authored by Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency application to stay application of the law until the Fifth Circuit rules on the merits.  As Justice Breyer wrote in a dissent joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, “although the injunction will ultimately be reinstated if the law is indeed invalid, the harm to the individual women whose rights it restricts while it remains in effect will be permanent.”

You take ‘em both.  What message is someone concerned with protecting reproductive rights to take away from these conflicting developments?  Here are a few:

  • Activism matters.  The Albuquerque ballot measure was defeated because of the dedicated work of organizations and individuals committed to reproductive justice.  Similarly, HB 2 was initially defeated (though later signed into law) because of the work of activists in Texas, as documented in Roe at Risk [www.roeatrisk.org].  Movements are growing and taking hold across the country, and AFJ’s Bolder Advocacy initiative has developed a Reproductive Rights & Justice Toolkit to help current activists and those wishing to get involved.
  • Courts matter.  Whether it’s the Supreme Court, the Circuit Courts, or the District Courts, federal courts will continue to play a critical role in protecting—or gutting—women’s constitutional rights.  We need to make sure judges are appointed who reflect our values http://www.afj.org/our-work/issues/judicial-selection-2, and we need to put an end to the obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees.
  • We’re all in this together.  As Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in response to the Supreme Court decision, “Your rights and your ability to make your own medical decisions should not depend on your zip code.”  There is a nationwide assault on our rights and the response must also be nationwide in scope.

And there you have the facts of life.  I’m proud to live in a country where, when parents, teachers, and medical professionals tell young people about the facts of life, those facts include autonomy over our own bodies.  And I’m even more proud to live in a country where so many dedicated people are fighting to keep it that way.

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