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There’s a reason we were all transfixed by Texas Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster last month. With attacks on women’s health multiplying in state legislatures throughout the country, it’s easy to forget that even in the most conservative of states, there are strong elected officials – many of them women – fighting on our behalf.
As the policy director for Young Elected Officials (YEO) Action, representing the interests of young progressives in elected office, I am privileged to see similarly courageous acts on a regular basis.
This year, while so many other states were passing regressive laws meant to control women’s bodies, two young legislators in Colorado succeeded in expanding age-appropriate comprehensive sex education in their state. Representative Crisanta Duran, the youngest Latina legislator in Colorado’s history, sponsored the bill to fund comprehensive sex ed throughout the state. Her co-sponsor and colleague Dominick Moreno, the youngest member of the Colorado General Assembly, told how he was failed by the sex-ed system as a young gay man. The bill became law. Young legislators like Representative Toni Berrios were also the driving force behind a comprehensive sex-ed bill that passed in Illinois this year.
Efforts to fight back against misnamed “crisis pregnancy centers” are also being led by young people in elected office. Supervisor Jane Kim sponsored the effort to make San Francisco the first city in the country to require these centers to tell the truth to the women who visit them – that they don’t provide referrals for abortion or emergency contraception. In Wisconsin, Dane County Supervisor Jenni Dye led the effort to guarantee that the county only contracts with reproductive health centers that provide comprehensive, factual information to women.
Like Wendy Davis’ filibuster, these courageous stands make a difference even when they aren’t ultimately successful. Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores received death threats after she spoke during a hearing on a comprehensive sex education bill about her experience having an abortion as a teenager. "I shared that story because I felt it was relevant to the importance of sex education in Nevada schools, and my belief that our children need to be armed with good information in order to make good choices,” she later said.
When Florida’s legislature was considering a manipulative and discriminatory ban on “race- and sex-selective” abortions, a group of African American women legislators walked out in protest of comments like those of one conservative state representative, who compared black women choosing to have abortions to the Ku Klux Klan. By walking out, they made their voices heard.
These days, it's easy to harden ourselves to the steady stream of bad news about women's choice and the technical jargon that masks the true impact. We forget sometimes what a fundamental human right this is – the right to make decisions about your own body, to your basic health choices, to privacy and autonomy. That right is being eroded by state governments, composed of a majority of men, who are policing and literally invading women’s bodies.
Last week, People for the American Way released a report on the latest attacks chipping away at women’s constitutional right to choose. These threats are not isolated; they are coordinated, increasing, and building to a strategic challenge of Roe v. Wade. Deceptive and dangerous bills and budget cuts are being passed in North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arkansas, North Dakota, and across the country. They are threatening women’s health and insulting women’s dignity: in my home state of Ohio, counselors can no longer discuss the option of abortion with rape victims, and the definition of “medical emergency” exceptions for abortion no longer includes threats to a woman’s health, but only situations that will result in her death.
It’s because of this that it is so important to support young progressive leaders, especially young women, in elected office. They counter these threats with courageous leadership and common sense. Their voices, too often ignored in the halls of power, are making the difference in a war on women that is very real, and stronger than ever.