The Feminist Majority (FM) today celebrates the 10th anniversary of the historic March for Women’s Lives, the largest protest in US history. Despite recent backlash, the FM also vows to continue working for women’s reproductive justice around the world.
“The March for Women’s Lives was so significant, because it showcased the energy and passion of the women’s rights movement,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the FM. “Ten years later, the movement is even bigger and even stronger – and we’re determined to stop the war on women’s rights and to increase access to reproductive health care.”
The March for Women’s Lives took place on April 25, 2004. The march was organized by the Feminist Majority, NOW, Black Women’s Health Imperative, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and over 1,000 cosponsoring organizations. Alice Cohan, the FM Political Director, and Loretta Ross, founder of SisterSong, were co-directors of the march. Over 1.15 million feminists from across the nation descended on the nation’s capital that day to demand increased access to abortion services, contraception, family planning and reproductive health services across the world.
In the last ten years, the women’s rights movement has achieved several major victories related to reproductive justice, including:
- The Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, which has improved access to contraception like the pill, IUDs, and injectable for millions of women. The ACA’s Medicaid expansion provision has also helped low-income people access vital reproductive health services.
- The FDA’s rulings last year and this year to expand over-the-counter access to emergency contraception with no age restriction.
- Defeating ballot measures that restrict abortion access across the nation – most recently, in California, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Albuquerque, where more voters turned out to vote no on an abortion ban than had come out in the mayoral election.
- The repeal of the Global Gag Rule.
- Federal and state court decisions blocking attempts to restrict women’s access to reproductive health services.
- Passing proactive legislation that protects access to reproductive healthcare in several states, including New York’s recent Women’s Equality Act.
The gains also involved women’s increased political involvement. In 2008, women voters elected a feminist president – and in 2012, they elected him again. From 2007 to 2011, the first-ever woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, passed more legislation through the chamber than any Speaker in history. Today, more feminists are in elected office than ever before in history – and the number keeps growing.
“A decade has passed since the historic March for Women’s Lives, and we have never rested on our laurels,” said Smeal. “Ten years ago, FM staff and supporters carried signs demanding that legislators ‘Stop the War on Women.’ Although we’ve certainly come far since 2004, that war has continued to threaten many of our victories. Today, we are not only looking back, but marching forward.”
American women are now facing a clinics crisis, with anti-choice legislation blocking access to vital reproductive health services for millions of women and anti-choice extremists threatening the lives of doctors who provide abortion. Since the 2010 election, the War on Women has accelerated in the US House and at the state level, with more legislation proposed in 2011 through 2013 than ever before to restrict a woman’s right to choose. Over the course of this year, at least four states will vote on ballot measures meant to undermine reproductive freedom. Around the world, some 220 million women who want access to contraceptive services still lack access, and abstinence-only policies and lack of availability of contraceptives at PEPFAR sites intent on reducing HIV/AIDS put women at risk. Further, seven women die every hour in developing nations from unsafe abortions due to a lack of access, and 800 women die unnecessarily in pregnancy and childbirth around the world every day.
“Although there is still much to do to achieve reproductive justice,” Smeal concluded, “we are as confident today as were on April 25, 2004 that women’s quest for reproductive justice and equality will ultimately prevail. The gender gap in voting is growing in the US, and the movement worldwide grows stronger each day.”