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5 Questions for…Nancy Northup, President and CEO, Center for Reproductive Rights

March 23, 2015

Nancy_northup_for_PhilanTopicMore than forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a woman's right to have an abortion in Roe v. Wade, a number of states have passed laws designed to restrict women's access to reproductive health services, including emergency contraception and abortion. In Congress, meanwhile, the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services in most cases and has routinely been attached as a "rider" to annual appropriations bills for the Department of Health and Human Services, recently was attached to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act — a bill designed to protect citizens or permanent residents of the United States who have been trafficked and/or sexually assaulted or abused.

We asked Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global human rights organization that uses constitutional and international law to secure women's reproductive freedom, about these legislative trends, efforts to push back against them, and the road ahead.

Philanthropy News Digest: Your organization recently launched a campaign, "The War on Women Is Over! If You Want It," that was inspired by Yoko Ono and John Lennon's 1970 "War Is Over" campaign. What are the goals of the campaign, and what kind of response has it generated?

Nancy Northup: We launched the campaign on the forty-second anniversary of the historic Roe v. Wade decision with the goal of inspiring current activists engaging and educating new audiences about the profound threats to women's freedom here in the United States. We're thrilled with the support we have received so far, from men and women across the country. Celebrities like Taylor Schilling, Susan Sarandon, Martha Plimpton, John Lithgow and Yoko Ono herself have all thrown their weight behind this campaign, and we couldn't be more grateful.

We were inspired by the power and history of Yoko Ono and John Lennon's 1970 "War Is Over" peace movement, which brought together thousands of anti-war activists across the country and unified them behind a simple message. And we are incredibly fortunate and grateful to have the personal blessing of Yoko Ono as we go forward with the campaign.

PND: The inclusion of the qualifier "If You Want It" would seem to suggest that society — women and men — have become complacent about women's reproductive freedom in the decades since Roe v. Wade. Why is that?

NN: There are countless dedicated people — clinic escorts, providers, doctors, lawyers, youth activists, researchers, elected officials, writers, volunteers, and donors — actively engaged in the fight for women's reproductive freedom. The vast majority of Americans support women's access to safe and legal abortion as part of a full range of reproductive health care. But the anti-choice community has waged a successful propaganda war, based on fear and misinformation, to marginalize the seven in ten Americans who want to see Roe v. Wade upheld, and that has made people feel alone and reluctant to speak up. This campaign is about giving the silent members of our majority an opportunity to make themselves seen and heard.

PND: Ground zero for this fight seems to be Texas, where restrictive laws have reduced the number of licensed abortion clinics to fewer than ten. What are the implications of what is happening in Texas for the rest of the nation?

NN: The women of Texas have been especially hurt by the healthcare crisis that has rocked the state following politicians' sweeping attacks on access to essential reproductive care. As a result, women across the state are facing more barriers than ever to get the health care they need. Unfortunately, the politically motivated attacks on women's reproductive health care — including cancer screenings, contraception, abortion care, and other necessary services — aren't limited to Texas. In fact, they're happening in states across the South and in communities around the country.

The message that these politicians are sending is clear: Your constitutional rights can be whittled away until your ability to exercise them depends on your zip code. And the impact is devastating to women and men across the country.

That is why the Center for Reproductive Rights is challenging two components of Texas House Bill 2 (HB2) and currently awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which will determine whether the remaining clinics in Texas, including the last remaining abortion provider in the Rio Grande Valley, can stay open — or whether this fight goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

PND: The campaign calls on supporters to petition members of Congress to co-sponsor the Women's Health Protection Act, which would require states to regulate abortion providers in the same way they regulate other clinics and doctors — no waiting period, no requirement for clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards or for abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges, etc. But the bill seems to have little chance of being passed by the Republican-controlled Congress. Is a petition sufficient to show Congress that Americans want to end the "war on women"? Or are there other things concerned citizens can do?

NN: There are many ways people can support the pro-choice and women's rights movements. The Women's Health Protection Act is a critical piece of legislation that would ensure that women across the U.S. have the same access to reproductive health care, no matter where they live. We're encouraging people to sign the petition or call or tweet their representative in Congress and share the legislation within their networks. But people can also make an impact in other ways. For example, we are asking men and women to share their personal reproductive health care stories through our Draw the Line platform. It's our hope that, by encouraging people to speak out, we can change the culture of shame and stigma that surrounds abortion in particular and reproductive health care in general.

PND: What would you like philanthropy to do, or do differently, to protect women's reproductive rights?

NN: The major funding in this field comes from foundations with a specific focus on reproductive rights. I'd like to see funders with broad programs in human rights, democracy, public health, and economic development to see the critical connection between those areas and reproductive health and decision making and, of course, to support our work.

For philanthropic organizations that are already funding reproductive health and rights, we need to continue to work collectively to end abortion stigma. The center is proud to be a part of this effort, which includes pro-choice organizations, like-minded nonprofit partners, foundations, and businesses, as well as all citizens who believe women should have reproductive autonomy.

The field is heading in the right direction. We need to continue to work collectively toward bold goals with a clear and pro-active strategy. Together we can continue to articulate our proactive agenda while fighting extremism, document our positive impact on women’s rights, and ensure reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right in the U.S. and around the world.

Kyoko Uchida

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