Last year, as a result of the 2010 midterm elections, the 112th Congress became the first in a generation to start out with fewer women in its ranks than the Congress before it. After decades of slow incremental growth in the number of women serving in Congress, last year we actually lost ground, dropping from 93 to 92 women (thankfully Kathy Hochul's victory last summer returned us to the previous level.)
But 2011 also saw the House of Representatives engage in an unprecedented assault on women's reproductive rights. Whether it was their passage of a bill to defund Planned Parenthood or their legislation that would allow hospitals receiving federal funds to refuse reproductive care to women even if their life was in danger, time and again, the House of Representatives proved it was hostile toward women's rights.
These things are not unrelated. The fact is, the more women we elect to office, the more women's voices are heard and the more the issues and values important to us become a priority. It's especially true on the issue of women's reproductive freedom. As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade today, we must recommit ourselves to doing all we can to elect more pro-choice Democratic women to Congress in 2012.
Looking just at the Senate, we have an unprecedented 11 Democratic pro-choice women running, either as the incumbent (6) or challenger (5). We also have a real opportunity to regain a pro-choice majority in the House of Representatives with Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the helm.
But the only way we're going to accomplish this is if women make their voices heard this year, vote for pro-choice candidates in November and bring a surge of women candidates into Congress. That's exactly why I started Off The Sidelines, to serve as a call to action for women to get involved in politics. Whether it's registering to vote, volunteering for a candidate that shares your values, posting on Facebook, tweeting or running for office yourself, there are so many ways women can get off the sidelines and ensure that women's values and priorities are represented.
Remember the Rosie the Riveter campaign? It inspired six million women to enter the workforce during World War II. We need a Rosie the Riveter for our generation. Imagine if six million women were to register to vote this year... imagine if six million more women voted this year than did four years ago. We would see a dramatic change in the representation of Congress and in the policies it implements.
The House of Representatives passed several anti-choice bills last year, but they went nowhere because we have a pro-choice majority in the U.S. Senate and a champion in the White House. In 2012, it's going to be up to women to make sure the extremist anti-choice policies of the right continue to fail. It's going to be up to women to re-elect Barack Obama and elect a pro-choice Congress.
How are you planning to get off the sidelines and elect pro-choice candidates in 2012? Tell me in the comments and tweet me at @SenGillibrand with the hashtag #offthesidelines.
Follow Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenGillibrand