Congress Has Changed, But Our Priorities Haven’t

With yesterday’s election in the U.S., Republicans regained control of the Senate, potentially setting the stage for two years of partisan conflict between a now-Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic White House. We won’t have a full picture of what this election means until the new term starts, but we do know it presents a more difficult landscape for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In recent years, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives repeatedly passed dangerous and destructive legislation that would have compromised a woman’s right to choose, drastically reduced funding for contraception around the world, and jeopardized the U.S.’s global leadership—measures that were rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The new landscape will not be easy terrain to navigate, but it does not change what we need to achieve in the next two years. IWHC will continue to urge Congress to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule, ensure funding for global reproductive health care and efforts to combat child, early, and forced marriage, and fix the unfair ban that prevents Peace Corps volunteers from accessing abortion services.

Progress is possible. We saw strong bipartisan cooperation in 2013 when Congress came together to pass the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. It is possible, but by no means will it be easy. With different parties controlling the two branches of governments, few bills are likely to move through the entire legislative process to make it into law.

Strong leadership from the Obama Administration is now more crucial than ever before. The Administration can take a number of steps without congressional action. It should start by reinterpreting the Helms Amendment, which has created barriers for women in developing countries, particularly in Africa, from accessing safe, legal abortion services. The Administration can also fulfill the mandate of the Violence Against Women Act and develop a comprehensive strategy to end child, early, and forced marriage worldwide. If Congress drops the ball on sexual and reproductive health and rights, then action from President Obama becomes increasingly important.

This Congress will also serve during two critical years for the advancement of women’s rights globally.  With the 20th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women next year, followed by the expected UN adoption of a new development agenda later in 2015, we cannot afford to slide backwards. U.S. leadership is critical in these international discussions and the Obama Administration should continue to champion the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young people on the international stage.

Regardless of which party controls Congress, the U.S. government should not be a barrier preventing women around the world from receiving the health care they need. IWHC will continue to push for strong U.S. leadership both on the domestic and international stages to protect and advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls everywhere.

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