Protecting our rights

ELINOR TATUM Publisher and Editor in Chief | 2/24/2012, 3:04 p.m.
We can't take any rights for granted; if we do, we will lose them all....
When guidance counselors need to care

We can't take any rights for granted; if we do, we will lose them all.

This past weekend was the 41st annual New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, and I had the honor of keynoting the Westchester Black

Women's Political Caucus annual legislative breakfast. This year's theme was "Look Back, Lean Forward and the Power of Your Vote."

As I spoke to a group of hundreds of activist-minded, mostly African-American women assembled at the breakfast, I centered my remarks on how our freedoms and rights, such as voting, are once again under attack.

Attacks on voting rights are mounting across the country; bit by bit, they are trying to chip away at our ability to participate in the democratic process. By putting in place obstacles to voting that our communities are hardpressed to overcome, they are working to disenfranchise us. The fights we thought we had won in 1964 and 1965 seem just as pressing today as they were 47 or 48 years ago.

And the fight is not simply at the ballot box. In the state of Virginia, which in recent years has worked hard to shed a conservative and backward image of being part of the old Confederacy and has embraced being a leader of the "New South," reactionaries are working to push that state backward. Republican legislators there are waging a war against a woman's right to make critical decisions about her own body.

And what makes matters worse is that this is not an isolated case. In 2012, "personhood" legislation--making a fertilized egg akin to a human being--has been introduced in 12 states. While Mississippi was smart enough to reject this ludicrous legislation, Virginia has passed it. This measure would make all abortions illegal, including those performed in cases of incest or rape, and would make many methods of birth control illegal as well.

What is so unfortunate in the way this debate on reproductive rights has played out, especially in the House of Representatives, is that women have been so absent from the discussion.

The measures that the GOP are trying to initiate in states all across the country will not only turn back the clock on women's rights, they will put control of women's bodies in the hands of the government. This is even more interesting when you think about the fact that the GOP always tries to claim they want less government.

The Tea Partiers say, "Get your government out of my Medicare." I say, "Get your government out of my uterus."

And a third front is being waged in the war against the idea of diversity.

The Supreme Court has just decided to hear the case of a young white woman who was denied entrance to the University of Texas. She claims that the denial was based upon her race. The case is the anti-affirmative action community's answer to the 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which said that public universities could take race into account in admissions to ensure academic diversity.