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In a world gone mad, it shouldn't surprise that North Dakota is now requiring that the health education provided in the state include information on the benefits of abstinence within marriage, not just before marriage. Nor should it come as a surprise that the fiercest anti-abortion advocates would oppose the use of contraceptives. Nor, given all that, should we be surprised to find leading political figures, like Mitt Romney, doing a late in life U-turn on abortion rights and government support for family planning.
But enough is enough. It's time to halt the assault on women and their reproductive health and rights.
Last year, despite all the high-level Congressional attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics, Congress renewed its support for Title X family planning assistance, rebuffed efforts to slash international family planning assistance, and stopped a campaign to re-impose the global "gag rule" on overseas providers of family planning services.
But with considerably less fanfare, social conservatives have been quietly winning "victories" at the state and local level. The Guttmacher Institute reported earlier this month that a record-setting 92 abortion restrictions were approved last year by the states. In their budget-cutting zeal, several states, including Gov. Perry's Texas and Gov. Christie's New Jersey, slashed state-support for family planning clinics: the reproductive health of low-income women be damned.
So what accounts for this sudden resurgence of attacks on abortion rights, family planning, and reproductive health? Has there been a fundamental shift in public opinion? Of course, not. Poll after poll suggests that most Americans still support the reproductive health and rights of women.
What's different is that the success of the Tea Party movement has opened political doors that have long been closed to hardcore social conservatives. And they are seizing the political moment to push their extremist agenda.
In a representative democracy such as ours, majority views do not always prevail. If it did, America's gun laws would be a lot tighter. And so would our campaign finance laws. Extremists and special interests, if they attach themselves to the right candidates and the right parties, can leverage their political strength to enact laws that lack popular support, and repeal laws that do have popular support.
But our government, despite its shortcomings, is still a functioning democracy, and, in times such as this, it is important for the majority to make their views and concerns known. It's time for the women and men who fought so hard to establish reproductive rights in the first place to shake off their complacence: their hard-fought gains are in jeopardy. It's also time for young adults, who have taken their reproductive rights for granted, to take a stand. It's time to make your voices heard.
And it doesn't matter what your political affiliation is. Whether you're a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, your political leaders need to hear from you. There's nothing carved in stone that says that Republicans must deny women their reproductive rights, including access to contraceptives. There's nothing in the party's platform that says that Democrats must deny the "Plan B" pill to minors unless they have a prescription.
Left to their own devices, politicians will often do whatever it takes to get re-elected, even if it means taking a position that is contrary to public opinion or their own principles. So don't ever leave your political leaders to their own devices: make your opinions and your values known. If you think that Rick Santorum is crazy when he says that states should have the authority to ban contraceptives, call his campaign and leave a message. If you think HHS Secretary Sebelius was "right" in requiring health insurance to cover contraceptives services without a co-pay, but "wrong" in limiting a minor's access to the Plan B pill, let her know exactly where you stand.
We need a campaign to halt the political assault on women and their reproductive health and rights. And the campaign begins with you.
This op-ed by Population Institute President Robert Walker originally ran on January 20, 2012 on The Huffington Post.