On Tuesday, January 6, the 111th Congress begins and pro-choice Americans have 26 new reasons to celebrate.
This new Congress includes 21 new fully pro-choice members in the House and five new seats the Senate - a net gain of 26 pro-choice members from the 110th Congress. These new members are from a wide variety of states, including Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, and Virginia.
These new pro-choice leaders arrive for work in a city that, in 14 days, will celebrate the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama as the 44th American president.
America's pro-choice majority should be proud of the work we did to help make this change possible. With these successes, however, comes profound responsibility. The pro-choice movement finds itself on the cusp of a tremendous opportunity: not only to make significant headway into reversing some of George W. Bush's worst policies, but also to start advancing pro-choice initiatives on a national level.
And these policy priorities represent our pragmatic approach. Yes, we have a pro-choice president. Yes, we have more pro-choice allies in the House and Senate. But, anti-choice politicians still outnumber our allies in Congress.
Furthermore, this closely divided Congress and the new president are facing immense challenges, most notably a severe economic crisis that has affected all of us in some way. Now more than ever, Americans are looking to their leaders for solutions, and they have no patience for politics as usual.
Our pro-choice policies reflect the public's call for a change in the tone of the debate over important issues. The focus is on commonsense, common-ground solutions that will make a difference in the lives of women and their families:
The anti-choice side has made distorting the facts on this issue an Olympic-level sport. They know that the global gag rule blocks the world's poorest women's access to birth control and none of the money goes to the abortion services. Our hope is to work with the incoming Obama administration to reverse this policy and end this cruel politicization of women's health.
Let's invest more in family planning. We know that the current economic crisis means more women and their families fall through the cracks of our broken health-care system. And that's why funding for family-planning services is critical. Increasing funding for family planning means more women (many uninsured working women or women who come across hard times) would have to birth control, cancer screenings, and other routine health services.
Let's protect our teens by providing accurate sex education. At this time of economic hardship, it doesn't make sense for Congress to keep putting money into a program that every independent study confirms doesn't work. President Bush's "abstinence-only" policy is hopelessly failing and more and more states are rejecting abstinence-only funding from the federal government. In March of last year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a study reporting that one in four American teen girls has a sexually transmitted infection (STI) - the number rises to nearly half in African American teenagers.
Now is the time for a smart investment in accurate sex education that will provide our teens with the information they need to prevent unintended pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted infections.
Let's ensure the future of Roe v. Wade. Supreme Court spectators are predicting that President-elect Obama may appoint one - maybe two - new Justices to the Supreme Court. President-elect Obama speaks eloquently about his belief that the constitution includes a right to privacy as defined by Roe v. Wade. In the event of a vacancy, we will work with the new president and our allies in the Senate to ensure that a woman's right to choose doesn't lose any more ground on the Supreme Court.
So, there you have it. Four points on what change means for America's pro-choice majority.
Take in the moment. Relish the feeling of hope and accomplishment that comes as every new pro-choice member of Congress recites his or her oath of office today. You helped make this moment possible - but don't take anything for granted. We need your enthusiasm to translate these electoral victories into action.
Over the course of the campaign, President-elect Obama reminded us that, in America, "our destiny is written not for us, but by us."
In these challenging times, I ask you for draw on that spirit and take time to act on your pro-choice values.