Hillary's Herstory Issues

5 Times Hillary Clinton Led the Fight for Reproductive Rights

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Welcome to Hillary’s Herstory, an ongoing series where we spotlight Hillary Clinton’s myriad accomplishments and the impact she’s made in her decades of public service.


Hillary Clinton has been hailed in this election cycle – and throughout her career – as a champion for women, and particularly for women’s rights. Her accomplishments in protecting, defending, and pushing for the expansion of access to abortion, birth control, and family planning not only at home but around the world are undeniable, and the breadth of the work she’s done to defend reproductive freedom merits praise.

Let’s dig into Hillary’s record and get to know the woman most of us know as a champion for abortion, birth control, and family planning. (Spoiler Alert: Turns out it’s a title she deserves in full.)

1. She Came Out Swinging Against Hyde – and Called Abortion a “Fundamental Human Right.”

When Hillary Clinton began naming the Hyde Amendment on the campaign trail this year, she was leading a political sea change against the status quo rules of abortion funding. The amendment in question, which was created in 1976 and has been passed as part of the national budget every year since, prohibits government funding for abortion care – putting low-income women and women of color at a unique disadvantage for access to their reproductive rights. Hillary was the first in the Democratic primary to come out swinging against Hyde and commit to repealing it. (Sanders followed suit shortly after.) In doing so, she broke away from a pattern of major party politicians shying away from the topic of affirming abortion access – be it through Obama’s explicit endorsement of Hyde in 2011 or Kerry’s silence on the matter as a candidate in 2004.

But the stark difference between Hillary Clinton and her peers on the left doesn’t end there. When she began naming Hyde on the trail, she also affirmed her commitment to increasing funding for Planned Parenthood and called abortion a “human right.” In a political landscape where Donald Trump has called for “punishing” women who have abortions and Bernie Sanders finds the topic a “distraction” from “real issues,” Hillary has set herself apart as a vocal and steadfast supporter of a woman’s right to choose – and access – abortion, on demand and without apology.

Long story short: That’s a really big deal.

2. She Worked Tirelessly to Expand OTC Access to Emergency Contraception in the Senate.

Reproductive rights groups won a big victory in 2013 when the Obama administration, in the wake of FDA recommendations and court rulings ordering wider access to Plan B One-Step (also known as “the morning after pill”), lifted point-of-sale restrictions and age restrictions on the sale of emergency contraception. That change made Plan B, and later, generic pills like it, available over-the-counter to women of any age.

But the fight to expand access to emergency contraception goes back to a decade before that decision, when Hillary Clinton was a junior Senator from New York working in coalition with other women senators to broaden it. Hillary pushed “tirelessly” for FDA approval of the pill alongside Senators Patty Murray and Barbara Mikulski, even going so far as to block the nomination of an FDA head with the explicit caveat that they were waiting on the FDA’s final word on whether the medication would be approved to be sold over-the-counter without a prescription. The women knew that if science, and not ideology, shaped the FDA’s decision, it would result in broad access to emergency contraception – and that access was Clinton’s over-arching goal in the process:

In a Jan. 24, 2005 speech to the New York State Family Planning Providers, Clinton was even more explicit in her views on Plan B.

“Another form of family planning that should be widely available to women is ‘Plan B,’ Emergency Contraception,” said Clinton. “I agree with the scientists on the Food and Drug Administration’s Advisory Panel who voted overwhelmingly that Plan B is safe and effective for over the counter use. And I worked to launch a GAO investigation into the process of denying Barr Laboratories’ application because I believe the decision was influenced more by ideology than evidence.”

“I am hopeful that the FDA will come to its senses and announce a new policy making Plan B available,” she continued. “Information about Plan B should be available over the counter, which is exactly what the FDA’s Advisory Committee recommended. It should also be made available — automatically — to women who are victims of sexual assault and rape.”

That was in 2005. In 2006, the FDA announced the pill could be sold over-the-counter to women over the age of 18. In 2009, they lowered the floor to 17. Four years later, those FDA recommendations and decisions were pivotal in shaping the Obama administration’s embrace of unrestricted over-the-counter access to Plan B and its generic counterparts, and Hillary was watching it all happen in DC as Secretary of State.

3. She Consistently Honored the Intersection of Women’s Rights and Reproductive Rights.

Hillary Clinton has never been one to back down on the fight for women’s rights around the world. As First Lady, she made waves for a speech in Beijing that declared that “women’s rights and human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” As Secretary of State, she made it clear to world leaders that a fundamental part of democracy was women’s equality, and that women’s rights were a priority of the work the US was doing abroad.

And when she called for women’s rights and gender equality, she named reproductive rights and access as key to those struggles. In doing so, she made it clear that abortion, birth control, and family planning were central parts of women’s advancement and opportunities – as well as one of their undeniable rights.

In 1997, First Lady Hillary Clinton ventured to Argentina, where abortion was illegal, and called it “crucial.”

As part of her famous Beijing speech, she stated with no hesitation that forced sterilization and abortion, as well as denying women access to abortion and family planning by choice, were unacceptable violations of women’s human rights.

In addition to appointing the first-ever Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues as Secretary of State, she introduced the Global Health Initiative, which bundled $63 billion for maternal health services in countries around the world.

In 2010, she slammed then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada for refusing to commit to supporting family planning and contraception access abroad, saying: “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health, and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions.” This line harkened back to a truly epic response she delivered to a Republican Congressmen in 2009, in which stated unequivocally that “reproductive health includes access to abortion.”

When the Supreme Court allowed Hobby Lobby to deny insurance coverage for birth control to their employees as part of a religious exemption, Hillary was quick to denounce the ruling – calling it “deeply disturbing” – and link it back to the broader issue of women’s rights:

“Part of the reason I was so adamant about including women and girls [in State Department efforts] is that they’re often the canaries in the mine,” Clinton explained. “It is a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are unstable, anti-democratic, and prone to extremism. Women’s bodies are used as the defining and unifying issue to bring together people—men—to get them to behave in ways that are disadvantageous to women but prop up rulers.”

Now, she said, something similar was happening in the United States, where religion was worming its way into government. “Many more companies will claim religious beliefs. Some will be sincere, others maybe not. We’re going to see this one insurable service cut out for many women,” she said. “This is a really bad, slippery slope.”

Hillary’s ability to see reproductive rights not just as a single issue but as a part of all work done to impact women’s lives is a pivotal aspect of her leadership and her platform in her presidential campaign. It’s an understanding she took to the Clinton Foundation and would take to the White House as well.

4. She Voted For, Co-Sponsored, and Introduced Pivotal Legislation for Reproductive Rights as a Senator.

Hillary’s voting record in the Senate speaks for itself, as does the 100% rating she earned from NARAL and Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund while in office and her endorsement from EMILY’s List as a candidate for Senate (and President). Her position on reproductive justice, when tested, never wavered. She voted against Republican attempts to overturn Roe and defund Planned Parenthood, opposed bans on abortion at any stage, and fought to pass legislation to improve women’s health care access and improve their reproductive health.

She also played more integral roles in some pieces of key legislation, putting in more work than simply showing up to vote. (Something, by the way, Sanders didn’t do when Republicans most recently put Planned Parenthood’s funding on the line.) Hillary introduced a bill ensuring women in the armed forces had access to emergency contraception and co-sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act, which would have codified Roe.

5. She Has Consistently Put Reproductive Rights First – Again and Again and Again – in This Election.

If it sounds like Hillary has spent a lot of her tcareertackling these issues, it’s because she has. And it’s that same passion and vigor she would bring to the White House.

Hillary has consistently spoken about reproductive rights throughout this election, even when other candidates were putting different issues first. It’s that commitment to reproductive justice that sets her apart not only from the field of presidential candidates, but from many legislators who passively support a woman’s right to choose but don’t proactively work to improve access and care.

Hillary Clinton’s positions on abortion, birth control, and family planning aren’t stuck in one part of her platform. They’re not hiding underneath a “Women’s Issues” banner. Instead, they’re fundamental to various aspects of her vision for the future, including expanding health care services for veterans and improving on the progress of the Affordable Care Act. Reproductive justice is intertwined with all of the work Hillary plans to do – and would be a key part of her White House.

That’s why NARAL and Planned Parenthood came out in full support of Hillary in the primary, and didn’t wait until the general election:

“Senator Sanders once again highlighted the difference between an ally and a champion,” Kaylie Hanson, NARAL Pro-Choice America National Communications Director, said in a statement about the Town Hall. “His voting record is sufficient, but it doesn’t make him a champion for women. That champion is Hillary.” Cecile Richards has echoed that sentiment: “We have a lot of friends in Congress, but we have one true champion,” she said.


Those of us who have a lot at stake in the fight for reproductive freedom deserve a champion in the White House. And when it comes to issues of reproductive justice, one thing is clear in this political landscape: When she wins, we win.

feature image via Gage Skidmore.

Carmen Rios

Carmen is a writer, revolutionary, and social media guru living the dream in Los Angeles. She coordinates blog content for the She Wins campaign and is also the Digital Editor at Ms., Co-Founder and Managing Editor at Argot Magazine, Feminism Editor and Community Director at Autostraddle, and a Contributor at Everyday Feminism.