Dispatches from Future America: Nation Ratifies Reproductive Rights Amendment

Dispatches from Future America: Nation Ratifies Reproductive Rights Amendment August 8, 2011

[Editor’s Note: The last dispatch I received in this ongoing series was particularly bleak. As if on cue, I got another message the other day, this one apparently originating from a very different, and much rosier, future. I get the strong impression that these two possible worlds are, in some manner, competing against each other.]

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI (August 6, 2037) — The Thirty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified today after passing the Mississippi state legislature by more than the required two-thirds majority, making Mississippi the crucial thirty-eighth state to approve the proposal. The new amendment, which takes effect immediately, defines “the freedom to exercise control over one’s own reproductive system” as “an inviolable human right which may not be transgressed by any federal, state or local government or any employee thereof”.

Cheering crowds packed the halls of the statehouse where Gov. Jasmine Victoria Meredith symbolically signed the measure into law after its passage by the legislature. “From this day forward, Mississippi’s place in history as a champion of women’s rights is assured,” said the governor. “With these penstrokes, we erase the follies and crimes of the long-gone past – the anti-miscegenation laws, the shameful forced sterilizations, the hostility toward basic rights of reproductive choice – and step into a new era where the fundamental liberties of every human being will be respected and defended.”

Advocates of the measure traced the roots of their victory back to the early 2010s. “When the government issued regulations requiring that insurers cover contraception as part of the health-insurance overhaul, it galvanized the feminist movement nationwide,” said Feminist Majority Foundation president Amanda Marcotte. “The new generation of politically active women who emerged to defend that move turned out to play a major role in the progressive revolution of the early 2020s.”

Among other things, historians credit the revitalized feminist movement with securing the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in 2023. “But in spite of the improvements that brought about, there was ground left uncovered,” added Marcotte. “That led to the National Childcare Act of 2026, which required all large employers to offer nine months of paid parental leave, finally bringing the U.S. into parity with the rest of the developed world. Ironically, it was these liberal measures that brought about the dramatic decline in the divorce rate that religious conservatives had so long wished for. When that became obvious, further reforms began to snowball. The most dramatic, of course, was the Congressional approval of a strong, comprehensive sex-ed curriculum for all public schools nationwide, and the effects of that silenced even the most stubborn naysayers. The rate of new HIV infections was already plummeting even before a vaccine was finally approved in 2031.”

The newly approved amendment is intended to build on these gains. One of its provisions defines access to safe and effective contraception as a “public good” which the government is obliged to provide. “In most areas of the country, this was a formality,” said CNN analyst Athena Jones. “Still, there are a few conservative regions that tried to keep out family-planning clinics with burdensome regulations and regular harassment from protesters. The passage of this amendment should offer a solid ground for a court challenge striking down those laws, as well as providing federal resources for clinic escorts where local officials are unwilling or unable to provide them.”

The decision was not without its critics. “This law constitutes grave heresy, the arrogant decision of a godless nation that presumes to place itself above the infallible will of God,” said a statement issued by Pope Honorius V. “It is not the place of man to declare that he controls his own body when Holy Mother Church clearly teaches otherwise. All those who voted in defiance of our earlier commandment on this matter are hereby declared to be anathema.”

Most political observers expected the papal blast to have no effect. “The last census found that the number of practicing Catholics in America is under 3 million and falling,” said CNN’s Jones. “The church’s membership has been declining for decades, driven by an exodus of young people reacting to Rome’s unbending bigotry on the the long-settled issue of same-sex marriage, its ongoing refusal to ordain women despite a crippling shortage of priests, and the continuing fallout from the convictions of top church officials in Poland, India and the Philippines for covering up child molestation. The Vatican has long since rendered itself irrelevant as a political force.”

With victory in hand, the backers of the new amendment have vowed to look abroad for their next steps. “Although America has guaranteed its citizens the right to education and sexual freedom, not every country in the world still enjoys those same privileges,” said Gov. Meredith. “Despite the dramatic slowing of the global birthrate, we have much work left to do before world population stabilizes at a sustainable level. With the momentum of today’s victory, I hope we can prevail upon Congress to do more to expand American support of family-planning and childhood vaccination efforts worldwide. The 1% of GDP we’re currently devoting to this problem isn’t nearly enough.”

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