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A Vote for Obama is a Vote for Women

Obama's present votes on abortion-related bills were part of a broader pro-choice strategy designed to defeat dangerous legislation that would have compromised the health of Illinois women.
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Yesterday -- January 22, 2008 -- marked the 35th anniversary of the historic Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision that guarantees a woman's right to choose an abortion. It was on this day that I felt particularly compelled to speak out about my experiences with Senator Barack Obama -- a man who should be honored, not condemned, for his consistent and unwavering support for reproductive freedom, women's health, gender equity and -- more broadly -- social justice.

I recognize that outsiders are attacking Senator Obama on the "chutzpah" factor -- suggesting that he lacks courage or real commitment on the "hard" issues such as reproductive rights or other issues such as gun control and violence against women. My experiences could not be further from that depiction.

I formerly worked for Planned Parenthood in Illinois. I had the honor of working with Senator Barack Obama during his tenure in the Illinois Senate. He was -- and remains -- adamant about his support for women's health and access to reproductive healthcare services. His present votes on abortion-related bills were part of a broader pro-choice strategy designed to ultimately defeat bad and dangerous legislation that would have compromised the health and safety of Illinois women. As Planned Parenthood's lobbyist in Illinois has said, Senator Obama was asked to facilitate a strategy designed to help provide cover for other Democrats. Specifically, Planned Parenthood turned to Senator Obama because of his strong record on reproductive rights. At the time, Republicans were trying to force Democrats from conservative districts to register politically controversial no votes. Senator Obama initially resisted the strategy, as he wanted to vote against the anti-abortion measures, but decided to work with our strategy to help defeat these anti-choice bills. It is important to note that a present vote on a bad bill is essentially the same as a "no" vote, as the bill needs "yes" votes to pass. However, it is difficult for Republicans to use "present" votes in their campaign literature against Democrats from moderate and conservative districts (also see December 20, 2007 NY Times article: "It's Not Just 'Ayes' and 'Nays': Obama's Votes in Illinois Echo"). This strategy is now being used against Senator Obama in the same way we planned for it to work in our favor then.

It is confounding to me that Senator Obama is being demeaned and attacked so vociferously on this. I came into this campaign season feeling relieved and thankful that our two main candidates support women's health and reproductive freedom. I am now deeply disappointed that politics has led to deceitful misrepresentations of Senator Obama's commitment and work in this area.

Senator Obama was a leader in the Illinois legislature, and has continued to demonstrate leadership in the U.S. Senate. He understands reproductive rights within a broader context of health and prevention. He promotes, both in words and in action, a public health agenda that includes (but is not limited to): prevention of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; access to contraception; comprehensive sex education programs (which include information about abstinence as well as age-appropriate information about prevention and the availability of health services); and reducing disparities in health access for low income communities.

Again -- based on my experience, I can personally say that Senator Obama comes to his positions and his work from very deep-seated principles about justice, opportunity, equality and freedom. He also is strategic about finding ways to accomplish goals. It is these principles combined with his strategic sensibilities, experiences and ability to bring people together that garnered my personal support for his candidacy.

We are at a juncture in our nation. Over the last eight years, we have faced unprecedented challenges to reproductive freedom, justice and equality. President Bush and his administration did more to turn back the clock on issues of concern to women and undeserved communities than we have seen in generations. These assaults came in many forms, including (but not limited to): the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule prohibiting international family planning programs from receiving US funds if they even counseled on abortion (with their own private money); the appointment of two anti-choice fundamentalist Supreme Court justices and many more like-minded Federal judges; increased funding for dangerous abstinence-only until marriage sex education programs; censorship within administrative agencies and with grantees; dismantling of family planning programs; broad barriers to contraception and reproductive health care services; and a general environment in which politics has trumped effective public health and good science.

We must make a change and elect a president who believes in an America for us all. An America that values women and families, promotes both prevention and access to abortion, and fosters and implements programs to support the values that Senator Obama so deeply holds. Senator Obama is 100% pro-choice and is a champion for women's health and equality. For these reasons -- and many more -- he is getting my vote this year.

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