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Obama Can't Make Eye Contact With Abortion Rights

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The following post is written by Loretta J. Ross, founder and the National Coordinator of the Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective.

I find myself somewhat depressed by what's going on in this moment. A year ago, millions of us watched with great hope the inauguration of President Obama. I did not expect him to be a miracle worker, given the overwhelming crises he inherited from George Bush -- an economic meltdown, two wars, an out-of-control deficit, and a crisis of faith in our government and public institutions. The Office of the President had lost all credibility as the multiple lies and manipulations of the Bush-Cheney administration brought our country to its knees.

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President Obama had a full-blown mess on his hands. He needed to prioritize saving the economy, ending the wars, combating terrorism, enacting health care reform, and restoring trust in the government before he could get to the main issues I wanted as a reproductive justice activist. I fully understood that we had elected a neo-liberal to beat back a neo-fascist agenda. So his support for Wall Street, for corporations, for moneyed interests - while disappointing -- was not surprising. He had to have centrist, pro-business politics to get elected. After all, this is the America I know, love, and criticize.

What was truly disappointing was the way President Obama flinched every time support for abortion came up in policy debates -- from the stimulus bill to health care reform. As Sharon Camp from the Guttmacher Institute puts it, "He can't make eye contact with abortion," an observation those of us in the reproductive justice movement can't help but agree with. His failure to stand up for the human rights of women -- and to trust us -- began to make me wonder about his commitment to those of us who were his core constituents and helped elect him. He's like the prom date I had last night who can't remember my name this morning.

In many ways, his failure of leadership on abortion rights has made things worse. In the health care reform debates, we have Democratic politicians increasing restrictions on access to abortion. President Obama openly supported the Hyde Amendment prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions for poor women, women in the military, and women receiving health care from the Indian Health Service. Instead of dismantling Hyde, he's defending it, while not understanding that a country that can be persuaded that poor women are second class citizens who don't deserve funding for abortions can morph into a country that believes that all poor people don't deserve funding for health care at all.

So as I continue SisterSong's work of building a movement of women of color for reproductive justice, I wonder what the New Year will bring. Will we finally begin to see White House leadership help us save the lives of women of color who desperately need us to stand up for them? Will national political leaders wake up to the reality that poor women and rural women in states like Kentucky suffer most when the federal government compromises on access to reproductive health care? Will President Obama offer policies to substantiate his brilliant rhetoric? Will he support our human rights to have children, or to not have children? To parent our children in safe and healthy environments which are the cornerstones of reproductive justice?

The tea-baggers on the right who loathe his agenda are the least of his problems. The diminishing faith among those in his core base should really worry him. How can we be motivated to come out to the polls when we doubt whether our needs are his priority?

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