The repeal of the failed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy prompted celebrations across America this week. To many, this long-overdue decision marked a vital and necessary end to a discriminatory and exclusionary policy.
We heard the politicians' heartfelt debate as they touted their belief in the importance of limiting government infringement on Americans' privacy rights. We agree wholeheartedly with that underlying principle. And yet, even as we applaud the progress on that front, we remain deeply concerned about the lack of action and support for equal privacy rights for women and families.
The call for a limited government standard extends to policy after policy -- except when it comes to the right of reproductive choices. We, as Republicans, are even more outraged when our own Party's leadership employs a selective rule violating the most basic and powerful GOP ideal against government intrusion.
The GOP always has led the charge for limited government, and that call led to landslide GOP victories in the 2010 election. American voters responded to the focused GOP message of real conservative values, including fiscal constraint and a rollback in the federal government's reach. Rightfully missing from the agenda was a push for extreme policy on social issues.
There are few issues more deserving of respect and more consistent with the GOP's long-held limited government standard than the right of a woman and her family to make their own private medical decisions. Yet now, even before the GOP formally takes control of the agenda in the U.S. House of Representatives, some Republican Party members are demanding more restrictive reproductive health policy. Socially extreme politicians use these rights as a bargaining chip and a vehicle to gain political clout as they pander to a vocal minority. Their agenda and policies run counter to their claim that they want to lessen the rate of abortion.
These very leaders throw up the biggest roadblocks to proven ways to reduce unintended pregnancies. They do not support comprehensive, age appropriate sex education, access to birth control, or emergency contraception, even for rape victims. Perhaps most compelling -- despite the fact that our country is experiencing a spike in teen pregnancy and more than twenty-five percent of teens have a sexually transmitted disease -- these "social conservatives" will not support effective policy to curb these disturbing trends.
The recent "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" debate offered a glimmer of hope that common ground can be reached in the future on other privacy issues, including privacy rights in making medical choices. Senators Collins and Lieberman created a road map for possible progress which can be used in other often controversial debates. By creating a stand-alone bill they prevented appropriations politics or procedural roadblocks from trumping the issue. In the end, they allowed an up or down vote on the merits of the issue, thus putting our elected leaders clearly on the record.
The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" put a stop to the practice of government discrimination against gay men and women in the military. That was big government at its worst -- and most intrusive. Our leaders would do well to recognize that a similar privacy threat occurs when government tries to impose personal moral beliefs on its citizens by restricting the private medical choices of women and families. Mainstream voters acknowledge the parallels of these two issues, and they have consistently opposed government attempts to intrude in these areas. Let us hope that Congress keeps this in mind as it gets to work in 2011.