When President Obama was elected in 2008 with a 100 percent approval rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, he brought in supercharged hopes that he would make historic advances for abortion rights — especially with support from a Democrat-led Congress.
Three years later, pro-choice advocates are warning Mr. Obama not to take women’s votes for granted in 2012, citing his failures on the abortion rights front.
Fifty-six percent of women supported Mr. Obama in 2008 “because we believed that he would stand up for women’s rights,” National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill said not long after the White House’s recent refusal to allow “emergency contraception” to be sold without restrictions as freely as aspirin and cough medicine.
“If his re-election team thinks it’s good politics to restrict access to birth control, he needs to fire them immediately. Only the hopelessly clueless could believe that women will enthusiastically support a president or any politician who restricts access to birth control,” Ms. O’Neill said.
The Dec. 7 decision continued the status quo on Plan B One-Step, under which minors need a prescription and adults must buy it from behind the counter, rather than grab it off the shelf.
The decision was just the latest “disaster” from an Obama administration that thinks it can take women’s votes for granted, said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice.
What’s next, he asked, wondering aloud whether the White House would “bend the knee” to the Catholic health care industry and allow it to refuse its employees no-co-payment contraceptive coverage in their health insurance.
“I don’t think [the Obama administration] thus far thinks it could lose the votes of women, and I think that’s a dangerous presumption for the administration to make, going into [an election year],” Mr. O’Brien said.
And Jodi L. Jacobson, editor-in-chief of RH Reality Check, didn’t mince words in a recent article on the Obama administration and abortion.
“As a candidate, Obama said all the right things,” Ms. Jacobson wrote in “Conscience,” published by Catholics for Choice.
However, as president, “his actions suggest that then-presidential contender and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right — he will not fight for us,” she wrote. “Is Obama pro-choice?” she added. “Not by my definition.”
Mr. Obama lived up to early expectations: He declined to address the January 2009 March for Life rally and instead declared that abortion “not only protects women’s health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters.”
The next day, he rescinded the Reagan- and Bush-era policy blocking U.S. family-planning funds to foreign-aid groups that perform or promote abortions.
The pro-choice community was elated. This “reinforces why elections matter and how new leadership can end divisive policies that harm women,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Mr. Obama soon moved to overturn President George W. Bush’s regulation permitting health care workers to refuse to assist with abortions if they had religious or moral objections. He also appointed two progressive women to the Supreme Court, expanded access to birth control in the Affordable Care Act, left pro-lifers dissatisfied with how the health care bill will handle abortion, broadened research involving embryonic stem cells, and stood up to congressional Republicans who were seeking to defund Planned Parenthood.
And yet with the exceptions of the appointments of Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, very little of the president’s pro-choice advances are locked in, advocates noted.
And then there are the disappointments: No federal Freedom of Choice Act codifying a right to abortion. No elimination of federal funding for abstinence education. And, stunningly, no approval of over-the-counter status for emergency contraception.
“I think [the Plan B decision has] really shaken the faith of those who feel strongly about reproductive rights,” said Jessica Arons, director of the women’s health and rights program at the liberal Center for American Progress.
What will happen to pro-choice issues during 2012 or in a second Obama term? “That is the $64,000 question. It’s hard to predict,” Ms. Arons said.