The League’s History
The 1982 Convention voted to develop a League position on Public Policy on Reproductive Choices through concurrence. That fall, League members studied the issue and agreed to concur with a statement derived from positions reached by the New Jersey and Massachusetts Leagues. The LWVUS announced the position in January 1983.
In 1983, the LWVUS successfully pressed for defeat of S.J. Res. 3, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that the right of privacy includes the right of a woman, in consultation with her doctor, to decide to terminate a pregnancy. The League joined as an amicus in two successful lawsuits challenging proposed regulations by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), thus thwarting attempts to implement regulations requiring parental notification by federally funded family planning centers that provide prescription contraceptives to teenagers.
The League has joined with other pro-choice organizations in continuous opposition to restrictions on the right of privacy in reproductive choices that have appeared in Congress as legislative riders to funding measures. In 1985, the League joined as an amicus in a lawsuit challenging a Pennsylvania law intended to deter women from having abortions. In 1986, the Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional, upholding a woman’s right to make reproductive choices.
In 1986, the League opposed congressional provisions to revoke the tax-exempt status of any organization that performs, finances or provides facilities for any abortion not necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman. In 1987, the League unsuccessfully opposed regulations governing Title X of the Public Health Service Act. The League reaffirmed that individuals have the right to make their own reproductive choices, consistent with the constitutional right of privacy, stating that the proposed rule violated this right by prohibiting counseling and referral for abortion services by clinics receiving Title X funds.
In 1988 and 1990, the League urged congressional committees to report an appropriations bill for the District of Columbia without amendments limiting abortion funding. The League also supported 1988 legislation that would have restored Medicaid funding for abortions in cases of rape or incest.
The League joined an amicus brief to uphold a woman’s right of privacy to make reproductive choices in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. In July 1989, a sharply divided Supreme Court issued a decision that severely eroded a woman’s right of privacy to choose abortion. Although Webster did not deny the constitutional right to choose abortion, it effectively overruled a significant portion of the 1973 Roe decision by upholding a Missouri statute that prohibited the use of public facilities, employees or funds for counseling, advising or performing abortions and required doctors to conduct viability tests on fetuses 20 weeks or older before aborting them.
The League supported the “Mobilization for Women’s Lives” in fall 1989. Also, the League joined an amicus brief in Turnock v. Ragsdale, challenging an Illinois statute that would have effectively restricted access to abortions, including those in the first trimester, by providing strict requirements for abortion clinics. In November 1989, a settlement in the case allowed abortion clinics to be defined as “special surgical centers,” and to continue to perform abortions through the 18th week of pregnancy without having to meet the rigorous equipment and construction requirements for hospitals.
In 1990, the LWVUS joined the national Pro-Choice Coalition and began work in support of the Freedom of Choice Act, designed to place into federal law the principles of Roe v. Wade.
In 1990-91, the League, in New York v. Sullivan, opposed the HHS “gag rule” regulations that prohibit abortion information, services or referrals by family-planning programs receiving Title X public health funds. The Supreme Court upheld the regulations; Leagues nationwide responded in opposition, and the LWVUS urged Congress to overturn the gag rule.
The 1990 League Convention voted to work on issues dealing with the right of privacy in reproductive choices, domestic and international family planning and reproductive health care, and initiatives to decrease teen pregnancy and infant mortality (based on the International Relations and Social Policy positions). The LWVUS acted on a series of pro-choice legislative initiatives. It supported the International Family Planning Act, which would have reversed U.S. policy denying family planning funds to foreign organizations that provide abortion services or information. It opposed the Department of Defense policy prohibiting military personnel from obtaining abortions at military hospitals overseas and supported the right of the District of Columbia to use its own revenues to provide Medicaid abortions for low income women.
In 1991 and 1992, the League continued to fight efforts to erode the constitutional right of reproductive choice by supporting the Freedom of Choice Act and attempts to overturn the gag rule. In coalition with 178 other groups, the League filed an amicus brief in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, arguing that constitutional rights, once recognized, should not be snatched away. In June 1992, the Court decision partially upheld the Pennsylvania regulations, seriously undermining the principles of Roe. In response, Leagues stepped up lobbying efforts for the Freedom of Choice Act. The 1992 LWVUS Convention voted to continue work on all domestic and international aspects of reproductive choice.
In1993, the League continued to support legislative attempts to overturn the gag rule. In late 1993, President Clinton signed an executive order overturning it and other restrictive anti-choice policies. The LWVUS continued to work for passage of the Freedom of Choice Act and against the Hyde Amendment. The LWVUS supported the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a response to escalating violence at abortion clinics. The FACE bill passed and was signed by the President in 1993.
During the 1993-94 health care debate, the League pressed for inclusion of reproductive services, including abortion, in any health care reform package. In 1995, the League joined with other organizations to oppose amendments denying Medicaid funding for abortions for victims of rape and incest.
In 1998, the LWVUS opposed the “Child Custody Protection Act,” federal legislation designed to make it illegal for an adult other than a parent to assist a minor in obtaining an out-of-state abortion. The League also worked against proposals that would ban late-term abortions as interfering with a woman’s right of privacy to make reproductive choices.
In spring 2000, the LWVUS joined an amicus brief in Stenberg v. Carhart, urging the Supreme Court to affirm a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that a Nebraska law criminalizing commonly used abortion procedures was unconstitutional. The Court’s affirmation of the ruling in June 2000 was pivotal in further defining a woman’s right to reproductive freedom.
As Congress continued to threaten reproductive rights with legislative riders to appropriations bills, the League lobbied Congress in opposition to these back door attempts to limit reproductive choice.
In 2002, the LWVUS lobbied extensively against attempts to limit funding for family planning and, in 2003, the League lobbied the House to support funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which lost by just one vote. The League strongly opposed the passage of the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Act in 2003, but it was passed and signed into law.
In March 2004, the LWVUS lobbied in opposition to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA), which conveys legal status under the Federal Criminal code to an embryo and fetus, but Congress passed the bill and the president signed it.
The League cosponsored the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, DC, on April 25, 2004, which demonstrated and drew widespread support for the right to make reproductive choices, including many state and local League delegations.
In 2008, the League filed official comments with the HHS, voicing concern over “conscience” regulations that would limit reproductive health care options for women by allowing physicians, pharmacists and other providers to sharply limit their services according to their own views on reproductive health care.
In 2009, the League joined other groups urging rescission of the “conscience” regulations. The HHS subsequently modified the regulations to preserve women’s reproductive health care and the doctor-patient relationship.
The League’s Position
Statement of Position on Public Policy on Reproductive Choices, as Announced by National Board, January 1983:
The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that public policy in a pluralistic society must affirm the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices.