Bolder Advocacy

Roe at Risk: 7 Ways Nonprofits Can Fight Back

Forty years ago this year, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade, ushering in a new era of freedom and equality for women. While it’s a great moment to reflect on what advocates have achieved for women’s reproductive health, it’s also an opportunity to re-commit ourselves to protecting the rights enshrined in the landmark decision. A whopping 63 percent of Americans oppose overturning Roe.

Yet, as AFJ’s new film Roe at Risk illustrates so powerfully, efforts to erode Roe v. Wade are at an unprecedented level. The pressure is on nonprofits and individuals to join the reproductive justice community as it works both to fight attacks on Roe and to promote policies that support comprehensive health care for women—including contraception and family planning, and access to legal, safe, and affordable abortion.

Advocacy to defend and expand reproductive rights

To defend Roe and achieve broader health care for women, nonprofits will need to take advantage of many forms of advocacy. This includes activities ranging from educating the public and policy makers about issues of concern to shaping the development of governmental agency rules and regulations—and much more. The important thing to remember is that lobbying is just one form of advocacy.

Research and lobbying are among the many advocacy strategies this group uses to promote reproductive justice.

1. Lobbying: There are times when lobbying is essential in order to create policy change. The California Women’s Health Alliance lobbied for California law AB 154—resulting in one of the few laws passed recently that buck the national trend and increase access to reproductive healthcare.

And earlier this year 73 organizations created a petition asking President Obama to omit all restrictions on coverage and funding for abortion services from his proposed FY 2014 Budget. Because the budget is considered specific legislation, efforts to influence its path through the legislative process will likely (but not always) count as lobbying.

Nonprofits can and should lobby, but 501(c)(3) public charities need to stay within their annual lobbying limit. To learn more, see Public Charities Can Lobby and Nonprofits Can Influence the Budget Process.

2. Public education: Advocacy can also include raising awareness by educating the community about reproductive justice. For example, this pledge from the Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute generates public attention because it identifies religious leaders as supportive of abortion. Pledges like this that do not reference specific legislation are generally not considered lobbying under Section 501(h).

3. Research: Another important advocacy activity is informing policymakers about an issue through substantive researchCalifornia Latinas for Reproductive Justice is conducting a series of focus groups with young fathers and mothers in order to develop a white paper and an issue brief on policy recommendations for advancing the rights of young parents.

A white paper would not be considered lobbying under Section 501(h) if it provides “a full and fair exposition of the underlying facts” and if it is made available to the general public, a segment of the general public, or to governmental bodies or employees. The white paper should provide enough information to allow readers to draw their own conclusions about the issue, even if the report itself contains a specific conclusion.

4. Help public understand laws: When state laws are adopted that set the movement back, including for example parental notification laws, the nonprofit sector has stepped in to help the public understand the impact of these laws and navigate through the process. For example, the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health monitors enforcement of the Illinois Parental Notification Act and educates youth about the impact of the state’s law through a youth-developed ‘zine.

Another nonprofit, WV Free, helps to safeguard minor’s access to abortion by working with a network of attorneys to assist minors in navigating the state’s judicial bypass process – obtaining a judge’s permission for a minor to get an abortion without informing her parents. WV FREE’s judicial bypass attorneys have assisted seven young women needing confidential abortion services in the past year – one of whom had her case successfully argued before the West Virginia Supreme Court.

5. Mobilizing people to join the movement: Longstanding strategies like rallies, protests, and field organizing remain major ways for nonprofits to engage new people to join the fight to protect and expand reproductive rights. Nonprofits in Ohio participated in rallies earlier this month to protest new restrictions on abortion, including a measure that defunds Planned Parenthood clinics and reallocates state funding to “crisis pregnancy centers.”

6. Litigation: When a law limiting reproductive rights is passed, one of the most direct ways nonprofits can respond is by challenging the law in court. Groups like the ACLU, Center for Reproductive Rights are joining with Planned Parenthood to block an extreme law passed this summer in Texas from going into effect. The law bans abortions after 20 weeks and threatens to shutter the majority of the state’s abortion clinics.

7. Judicial accountability: At a time when so many laws undermining reproductive rights are being passed, judges are the gatekeepers to women and girls’ access to safe and legal abortion. Nonprofits can help ensure fair judges by getting involved in the judicial nomination process or speaking out about judicial decisions, like groups are doing now to denounce a bad ruling in Nebraska. See our fact sheet, Confirmation of Federal Judges and Executive Branch Nominees.