My Top 5 Moments that Shaped Sexual & Reproductive Rights in 2011

2011 provided nothing short of amazing moments within the sexual and reproductive rights movement. Though there were plenty of victories and drawbacks in the quest to increase women’s rights to make the best decisions for their health and lives, there were several events this year that stuck me the most. Here are my top 5 moments in 201 that had me jumping for joy…or scratching my head:

#1: “The Most Dangerous Place for an African American Child is in the Womb”- In February, the Texas-based anti-abortion group, Life Always, quietly put up a billboard in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, depicting an African American girl with the slogan: “The Most Dangerous Place for an African American Child is in the Womb”. The billboard, the group says, was to raise awareness of the high abortion rates among African American women. What the billboard did instead was piss off an entire city. From threats of boycotting nearby restaurants to calls to local government officials, the billboard was taken down within 24 hours later. This billboard, and subsequent billboard in other cities, angered African American women because, while the billboard focused on abortion, it generally stated that African American women could not be trusted to even give birth (because of the notion that African American women have too many children) let alone have abortions. While the billboard was down in New York City, similar billboards popped up in major cities such as Los Angeles and Atlanta, targeting African American women as well as Latinas.

#2: Birth Control for All – In August, the United States Department of Health & Human Services  (HHS) developed new guidelines that will require health insurance plans to cover several women’s preventive services. Beginning August 1, 2012, health insurance companies will fully cover birth control and voluntary sterilization, free screenings for diabetes and HPV, as well as breast feeding support and counseling on sexually transmitted diseases. The decision will bring much needed services for people, especially women, low-income families, and communities of color.

#3: Plan B Gets the Shaft from the HHS– In December, the Food & Drug Administration recommended that Plan B (also known as emergency contraception) be approved over-the-counter for women and young people of all ages…then the Department of Health & Human Services vetoed the FDA’s recommendation, with Secretary Katherine Sebelius ruling that younger adolescents don’t have the same capacity to think as critically as their older peers when it comes to using over-the-counter medication. President Obama defended the HHS’ decision, stated that “common sense” needs to be utilized when it comes to making decisions like these.

#4: The “Personhood” Movement Strikes– In November, Amendment 26 (also known as the Personhood Amendment) was rejected on the Mississippi ballot, largely due to the confusing language and broadness of the amendment, which would have outlawed abortion, many forms of birth control, and fertility services for women. Other reasons for the amendment’s failure to pass also include the media’s huge coverage of Amendment 26, and even outgoing Mississippi governor Haley Barbour said that the bill was “too ambiguous”. If the amendment would have passed, have defined life as starting at conception. Other states have created their own Personhood amendments, including Georgia, Colorado, Nevada, and Arkansas.

#5: The Attack on Planned Parenthood– In February, The House voted 240-185 on an amendment by Representative Mike Spence to defund Planned Parenthood. While Spence believed that Planned Parenthood uses federal funding for abortion services, Planned Parenthood states that federal money given to the organization in Title X funds were used for pelvic exams, breast exams, safer-sex counseling and basic infertility counseling, among other services, in 2010. Despite this, President Obama has been receiving a lot of flack for dragging his feet on defunding Planned Parenthood. Perhaps Obama knows that Planned Parenthood provides much needed services, including abortion services, for women, men and families.

We have a long way to go before we are living in a society where a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive wellness and bodily autonomy is the American way. So let’s shake our heads at our losses, celebrate our victories, and brace ourselves for what’s to come in 2012.

(PS: This is the very first post by brand-new blogger Nicole! Stay tuned for more from her in 2012.)

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