Obama Is First Feminist President, Panelists Say
“We’ve been locked out of the White House for eight years,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. She was among those taking part in a panel discussion at George Washington University on Monday.
Smeal passed out the special inaugural issue of her organization’s Ms. magazine, the cover of which features Obama ripping off his shirt and tie to reveal a T-shirt reading, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like.” Smeal wrote that Ms. “wanted to capture both the national and feminist mood of high expectations and hope as the 44th president of the United States takes the oath of office.”
She said when she met Obama, “He immediately offered, ‘I am a feminist.’”
The mood was buoyant at the conference, dubbed Fem2.0: Society’s Issues and Women’s Voices.
Panelists and participants expressed the belief that Obama will advance their agenda -- introducing the Freedom of Choice Act; increasing funding for family planning around the world, including abortions; ending funding for abstinence-only sex education ; and making access to contraceptives available to all women. “Week One of Obama’s administration, we thought maybe we should start packing our things, because our whole agenda is going to get done by the end of the month,” said Christina Page, conference panelist and author of “How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America.”
In his first week in office, Obama reversed the Mexico City Policy that was initiated by President Reagan and reinstated by George Bush after the Clinton administration lifted it. The policy barred U.S. tax dollars from funding organizations that promote or perform abortions abroad. The policy's reversal by Obama means U.S. taxpayers will now be paying for abortions abroad.
The Freedom of Choice Act would strike down virtually all state laws restricting abortion and allow federal funds to be used for abortions. The act has to be passed by Congress to become law.
The conference featured several panelists discussing how the "new media" can be used by feminists to advance their agenda of “reproductive choice and justice,” and other issues facing women, including discrimination against minority women and those who have children. Page and Gretchen Borchelt, the latter a senior counsel with the National Women’s Law Center, discussed how Bush's appointment of conservative judges to the U.S. Supreme Court dilutes the intent of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court decision that legalized abortion.
“The fact is that the court has gutted Roe,” Borchelt said. She cited state laws that call for informed consent, waiting periods and parental consent.
“The only thing that the court struck down in 1992 was the requirement for spousal consent for a woman to have an abortion,” Borchelt said. “And the reason that happened probably is because Judge (Ruth Bader) Ginsberg was on the court at the time, and she said, ‘I’m willing to live with these other restrictions, but you’re telling me I have to consult with my husband about what to do with my own body?’”
Borchelt said the ban on partial-birth abortion, signed into law by Bush and upheld by the Supreme Court, also “undermined” Roe v. Wade.
“It’s a very, very troubling situation,” Borchelt said.
Other topics covered by panelists included the injection of feminism into popular culture and organizing the next generation of feminists.
Organizations taking part in the conference included the National Organization for Women, Feministe, National Council of Negro Women, American Association of University Women and VivirLatino.