Vote Your Values: Defending our Reproductive and Sexual Rights

October 28, 2016

Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Survey / Photo: Liz Teitz

In these scary times known as the 2016 presidential election season, we face many choices. But ultimately they boil down to one: how do we pick our president for the next four years? The choice itself isn’t a new one, but the level of distrust towards these choices in this election season is unprecedented. Two-thirds of the U.S. population distrust both candidates, and phrases such as “picking the lesser of the two evils” are commonplace. In a political climate where none of the regular rules seem to apply, voters must pay more attention than ever to the candidates’ past records, stated values, and promises, rather than party alliances.

By looking at where Clinton and Trump stand on specific issues, we can learn more about the nature of their values and commitments, and discover how their respective visions for our country show their commitment to our core principles of securing equal rights and opportunities. One revealing policy area is the question of sexual and reproductive health. Do their beliefs reflect the Golden Rule, support equal rights and respect, honor people’s freedom to grow, prioritize education and redemption over punishment, and secure help for people who will work hard?

Today, domestic sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are well represented and protected in federal legislation (not necessarily in states’ legislation). SRHR is an umbrella term which addresses fact-based comprehensive sexual education, abortion, LGBTI rights, affordable access to contraceptives, and testing for STIs and HIV/AIDS. In practice, while federal laws are in place, regional policies and circumstance fall short of guaranteeing a person’s ability to access those rights. Often something as simple as geography limits access. I come from a rural North Carolina county where students don’t receive comprehensive sex education, which means that they are more likely than children elsewhere to contract an STI or HIV/AIDS, or to experience an unintended pregnancy. This failure to educate our students is an unfair element of circumstance, here geography.

Access to accurate information, to contraception, and to HIV/AIDS and STI testing is essential to a healthy and free society. With comprehensive sex education, politicians like Mike Pence, the Republican vice-presidential candidate would no longer be able to convince us that  “Condoms are very very poor protection against sexually transmitted disease.” As we have scientifically verified that providing contraception and medical testing limits unplanned pregnancies and STI and HIV/AIDS cases. Since we are armed with this knowledge, failing to provide these essentials is paramount to criminal neglect. And the American people know it: according to a September 2014 poll, “91 percent of Americans agreed that ‘Everyone woman on the planet deserves access to quality maternal and reproductive health care’. That includes 83 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of Republicans, and 69 percent of Independents.”

The issue of abortion is more contentious, but we should all recognize a few pieces of information to guide our decisions on the subject. One in three women in the U.S. have an abortion in their lifetime. Abortions occur regardless of its legality, and botched abortions claim tens of thousands of lives a year globally. We must legislate knowing that we can’t predict all the possible scenarios in which a person would have an abortion, and acknowledging that we live in an imperfect world.

The American public is less divided about the right for individuals to marry one another regardless of gender, secured by the Supreme Court last year, but many LGBTI rights are still contested. Such bills as the North Carolina bathroom bill violate civil rights laws, and should not have even been allowed to enter into legislation.

The reality of SRHR in the United States is that we are in relatively good shape right now, but this election has the power to solidify or repeal such fundamental human rights. We must not become complacent, or assume things will naturally continue to get better. As you examine Clinton’s and Trump’s positions on SRHR issues, do so with the knowledge that nothing is guaranteednot even the rights we’ve already won. We must seriously consider what is at stake.

Allison is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.

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