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Gone Too Far? Reproductive Politics in the Time of Obama

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

Obama caves to the Catholic bishops. (Photo: RH Reality Check)

Obama caves to the Catholic bishops. (Photo: RH Reality Check)

By Carole Joffe, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

What about abortion gives it staying power as the central issue in domestic politics, even in the period of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression of the 1930s? This is a question well worth pursuing.

I sounded a much more hopeful note in my recent book, Dispatches from the Abortion Wars. The book was started in the administration of George W. Bush, a particularly harsh time for the reproductive justice community. I finished the book in the first months of the presidency of Barack Obama, ending on a note of “cautious optimism” about a turnabout for the fortunes of reproductive health services and particularly for the provision of abortion. Candidate Obama, after all, had forcefully voiced his support for legal abortion, and nothing — at the time — seemed to be worse than the endless attacks on reproductive health services (not just abortion, but family planning , sex education, condom distribution for HIV patients and more) that were a key feature of the Bush presidency.

Quoting from the distinguished historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s work on an earlier period of abortion conflict in 19th century America, I even speculated that we might be entering a period in which abortion and related issues would no longer be “the central drama of (our) culture.” Given the devastating recession that had already become very evident around the time of the 2008 election, I, like many others, reasonably thought that the economy would in fact become the “central drama.”

But very soon after the 2008 election, it became very clear that social conservatives were not going away. On the contrary, they seemed more energized than ever. It also became clear that Obama the president was not going to be the forceful defender of reproductive rights that many of his supporters, including myself, had fantasized. Indeed, as early as January 2009, in his first weeks in office, reproductive politics emerged as a factor in the stimulus debates, and the new president blinked. The president’s proposal had included a modest provision that allowed states to spend more Medicaid funds on family planning. The Republican House of Representatives leader, John Boehner, publically mocked this provision, asking incredulously what “spending millions for contraceptives” had to do with “fixing the economy.” The provision was quickly dropped.

And, of course, many reproductive rights supporters are still smarting over Obama’s key concessions to anti-abortion forces, particularly the Catholic Church, in order to win support for his health reform legislation. By late 2011, it was still unclear whether Obama would again cave to the Church’s demands for very broad exemptions to the requirement that health insurance plans, under Obama’s health legislation, provide contraception without co-pays. But while that was pending, the reproductive health community was stunned when, in a clear bow to politics, the Obama Administration took the unprecedented step of overruling the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and rejecting the agency’s recommendation that Emergency Contraception be made available without a prescription to women under the age of 17. Read the rest of this entry →

Echoing at “Occupy”: The Women Behind Social Security

7:01 am in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

Mary Harriman Rumsey (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Harriman Rumsey (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

By Carolyn Gage, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

The emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement would not have been a surprise to one woman activist born over a century ago. Mary Harriman Rumsey was the partner of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, who was the first woman to occupy a Cabinet position.

Perkins has been called the “woman behind the New Deal.” Her achievements include the adoption of the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, employer-provided health insurance, welfare, Social Security, job-creation programs and the banning of child labor.

Perkins made adjustments to fit into the male-dominated arena of politics. She changed her name from “Fannie” to Frances and dressed to remind men of their mothers. But after her cabinet appointment, she found herself in an awkward position. The wives of male cabinet members were expected to host social gatherings where the real business of government frequently was conducted. Perkins didn’t fit the protocol.

Mary Harriman Rumsey came to the rescue. She rented a house in Georgetown and invited Frances to become her “roommate.” History notes that the two were far more than roommates, and that Mary was far more than a typical cabinet wife.

Rumsey, the daughter of a railroad tycoon, had grown up on an estate in upstate New York, where she eventually supervised the 600 employees. Her dinner parties with Frances were legendary, and, as one biographer noted, one would find Will Rogers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Bourke-White, General Douglas MacArthur and unknown Appalachian folk singer all at one table.

Rumsey founded a Washington weekly called Today, which later became Newsweek magazine. More significantly, Roosevelt named her to chair the new Consumer Advisory Board.
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The Populist Movement Reborn, At Last, In Occupy

3:08 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

It's time they heard us (Photo: Pamela Drew, flickr)

It's time they heard us (Photo: Pamela Drew, flickr)

By Rosalyn Baxandall, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

At last the 99 percent are shaming them: “This is not a Recession; It’s Robbery,” one sign read in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Usually U.S. social movements occur every 30 years: the 1900s, the 1930s, the 1960s. Even with the longest war in history against Afghanistan, and wars in Iraq, Pakistan and Colombia, it was eerily quiescent on the North American front in the past decade. A movement was long overdue.

Occupy Wall Street is the first populist movement on the left since the Populist Movement of the 1870s to 1897, the largest social movement of the 19th century. So, hurray.

When Occupy Wall Street set up in lower Manhattan on September 17th in Zuccotti Park, originally called Liberty Park Plaza, it took back the plaza’s original name, and spawned 400 or more occupations and actions across the U.S.

Back in the late 1800s, the Populists blamed Wall Street and the railroads for bankrupting farmers, forcing them off their land and devaluing their crops. Farmers paid more taxes than the industrial or the financial sectors because they couldn’t hide their land. Read the rest of this entry →