Public Policy Position on Reproductive Freedom

The League reaffirms that individuals have the right to make their own reproductive choices, consistent with the constitutional right of privacy. Below is the League’s long history of support for individuals to make reproductive choices.

League History

In 1983, the League formally added its position on reproductive freedom to its constitution. Immediately, the League joined as an amicus in two successful lawsuits challenging proposed regulations by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), thus thwarting attempts to implement regulations requiring parental notification by federally funded family planning centers that provide prescription contraceptives to teenagers.

The League has joined with other reproductive freedom organizations in continuous opposition to restrictions on the right of privacy in reproductive choices that have appeared in Congress as legislative riders to funding measures. 

Timeline

  • 1985: Joined as an amicus in a lawsuit challenging a Pennsylvania law intended to deter women from having abortions. 
  • 1986: The U.S. Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional, upholding a woman’s right to make reproductive choices. Additionally, the League opposed congressional provisions to revoke the tax-exempt status of any organization that performs, finances or provides facilities for any abortion not necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.
  • 1987: Unsuccessfully opposed regulations governing Title X of the Public Health Service Act. 
  • 1988: Supported legislation that would have restored Medicaid funding for abortions in cases of rape or incest. The League joined an amicus brief to uphold a woman’s right of privacy to make reproductive choices in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. 
  • 1989: A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that severely eroded a woman’s right of privacy to choose abortion. Although Webster did not deny the constitutional right to choose abortion, it effectively overruled a significant portion of the 1973 Roe decision by upholding a Missouri statute that prohibited the use of public facilities, employees, or funds for counseling, advising, or performing abortions and required doctors to conduct viability tests on fetuses 20 weeks or older before aborting them.
  • 1989: Members were part of the Mobilization for Women’s Lives. Also, the League joined an amicus brief in Turnock v. Ragsdale, challenging an Illinois statute that would have effectively restricted access to abortions, including those in the first trimester, by providing strict requirements for abortion clinics.
  • 1990: Joined the national Pro-Choice Coalition and began work in support of the Freedom of Choice Act, designed to place into federal law the principles of Roe v. Wade.
  • 1990-1991: The Supreme Court upheld “gag” regulations. Leagues nationwide responded in opposition, and LWVUS urged Congress to overturn the gag rule.
  • 1990: During the League Convention, it voted to work on issues dealing with the right of privacy in reproductive choices, domestic and international family planning and reproductive health care, and initiatives to decrease teen pregnancy and infant mortality (based on the International Relations and Social Policy positions). LWVUS acted on a series of pro-choice legislative initiatives. It supported the International Family Planning Act, which would have reversed U.S. policy denying family planning funds to foreign organizations that provide abortion services or information. It opposed the Department of Defense policy prohibiting military personnel from obtaining abortions at military hospitals overseas and supported the right of the District of Columbia to use its own revenues to provide Medicaid abortions for low-income women.
  • 1991 and 1992: Continued to fight efforts to erode the constitutional right of reproductive freedom by supporting the Freedom of Choice Act and attempts to overturn the gag rule. In coalition with 178 other groups, the League filed an amicus brief in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, arguing that constitutional rights, once recognized, should not be snatched away.
  • 1992: The Court decision partially upheld the Pennsylvania regulations, further eroding the principles of Roe. In response, Leagues stepped up lobbying efforts for the Freedom of Choice Act. LWVUS’s Convention voted to continue work on all domestic and international aspects of reproductive choice.
  • 1993: Legislative attempts to overturn the gag rule continued. In late 1993, President Clinton signed an executive order overturning it and other restrictive anti-choice policies. LWVUS continued to work for passage of the Freedom of Choice Act and against the Hyde Amendment. LWVUS supported the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), a response to escalating violence at abortion clinics. The FACE bill passed and was signed by President Clinton.
  • 1993-1994: During the healthcare debate, the League pressed for inclusion of reproductive services, including abortion, in any health care reform package. In
  • 1995: Opposed amendments denying Medicaid funding for abortions for victims of rape and incest.
  • 1998: Opposed the Child Custody Protection Act, federal legislation designed to make it illegal for an adult other than a parent to assist a minor in obtaining an out-of-state abortion.
  • 2000: Joined an amicus brief in Stenberg v. Carhart, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that a Nebraska law criminalizing commonly used abortion procedures was unconstitutional. The Court’s affirmation of the ruling in June 2000 was pivotal in further defining a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. As Congress continued to threaten reproductive rights with legislative riders to appropriations bills, the League lobbied Congress in opposition to these back door attempts to limit reproductive choice.
  • 2002: lobbied extensively against attempts to limit funding for family planning.
  • 2003: Lobbied the U.S. House to support funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which lost by just one vote. The League strongly opposed the passage of the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Act in 2003, but it was passed and signed into law by President George W. Bush.
  • 2004: Lobbied in opposition to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA), which conveys legal status under the Federal Criminal code to an embryo and fetus, but Congress passed the bill, and President George W. Bush signed it.
  • 2004: Co-sponsored the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., which demonstrated and drew widespread support for the right to make reproductive choices, including many state and local League delegations.
  • 2009: Working with Partners, urged rescission of the “conscience” regulations. The HHS subsequently modified the regulations to preserve women’s reproductive health care and the doctor-patient relationship.
  • 2012: The League successfully fought attempts in Congress to allow any employer or provider who claimed an ill-defined “religious or moral” objection to a healthcare service, such as reproductive healthcare, to be exempted from providing such coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The League opposed this exemption which would undermine the very premise of the ACA that all persons, regardless of gender, should be eligible for health services under the Affordable Care Act, and that failure to do so is discrimination based on sex. The League also lobbied Congress in support of fully funding the Title X Family Planning program in response to proposed cuts to Title X which provides family planning and reproductive health care services to millions of low-income individuals and families.
  • 2013: Submission of comments opposing religious exemptions for contraceptive services to the Department of Health and Human Services. This debate continued in the courts and the League joined with other concerned organizations in opposing broad “religious exemptions” to the requirement that all insurance plans provide access to contraception as basic care in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the religious exemptions.

Published by League of Women Voters, Rhode Island

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy. We never support or oppose any political party or candidate.

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