Senator Frank R. Lautenberg: Honoring a Champion of Sustainability

September 17, 2013

Guest blog by Kathleen Mogelgaard

Earlier this month, a diverse group of advocates and admirers gathered at Rutgers University to honor the late Senator Frank Lautenberg for his leadership on global reproductive health. In this era of ginned up controversy over basic access to women’s healthcare, it was great to remember the Senator.

Lautenberg, who passed away in June, served nearly five terms as a U.S. Senator from the Garden State. He was a tireless advocate of reproductive health and rights, fighting back against ineffective “abstinence-only” sex education programs in the United States and championing efforts to permanently end the harmful Global Gag Rule.

Lautenberg understood how central reproductive autonomy is to every woman’s life. His passion for reproductive health and rights never waned, and when last year’s Obama-care birth control debate broke out, he was right on message:

I have five daughters and eight granddaughters,” he said in March 2012, “and the one thing I worry about more than anything else is their health. I like to see their happy faces. I like to see them feeling good… So I want them to have doctors making decisions, not some employer who has a self-righteous moral view that he wants to impose on my daughter, my granddaughter, my wife. Nuh uh. On our side of the aisle, we believe that women are capable of making their own healthcare decisions.”                                                                                       

Senator Lautenberg brought that same passion to advocating for responsible environmental policy. He earned a lifetime score of 95% from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), one of the highest lifetime scores ever for a U.S. Senator. His advocacy for responsible policies to ensure chemical safety, force polluters to pay for cleaning up their messes, and move toward a national renewable energy standard earned him a rare endorsement from LCV for his reelection campaign in 2008.  According to LCV president Gene Karpinski, “Senator Lautenberg was a tireless ally who leaves an important environmental legacy, and we will miss him immeasurably.”

It’s not surprising that Senator Lautenberg, who cared deeply about his children’s and grandchildren’s future, recognized the importance of both reproductive health and environmental protection. Both are central to a sustainable world, and link to each other in important and undeniable ways. When women have the freedom, tools, and information to determine whether and when to have children, moms and babies are healthier. Opportunities grow for education of women and girls. Investment in children expands. Pressure on natural resources declines. And so on. When women are in the driver’s seat of their reproductive lives, the world bends toward a more sustainable future.

We join with our colleagues in honoring Senator Lautenberg’s contributions. His vision and leadership will be missed.


Kathleen Mogelgaard is an independent consultant with more than 15 years of experience in policy analysis, advocacy, and teaching on global environmental challenges and solutions. Her writing on the links between population, family planning and the environment has appeared in Grist, New Security Beat, and RH Reality Check