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It has been forty years since the founding of the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities (IRR). Marking the anniversary with a special issue of Human Rights is both appropriate and instructive. By integrating its forty years of experience into its current work, IRR will be able to take on these continuing challenges more effectively and will remain the conscience of the ABA.
Prior to IRR's formation four decades ago, some Americans were pleading for the most basic of rights. IRR has an extraordinary impact on the ABA, on its policies, and on the nation and will continue to be relevant as the profession travels the road ahead.
When civil rights and liberties are under assault, the voice of IRR is never silent. In the nearly six years following September 11, that voice has never been needed more to uphold the freedoms and the rule of law that define our nation.
Despite its modest size, IRR has attracted many leaders and doers. In its forty years, the Section has become a leader in policy development and issue advocacy, having a profound impact on the rights and liberties of all Americans.
The ABA and IRR have achieved a great deal in this country and abroad to steer our world in positive directions. It is critical that the Section not only continues past successes but also finds new ways to promote and advance the rule of law.
The United States is a nation of diversity, continuously overcoming ignorance and biases. Irr, often considered the conscience of the profession, will continue to play a leading role in the civil rights challenges that will emerge in the future.
Changes in the U.S. Supreme Court and increasing state efforts to limit the legality of abortion have left an uncertain future for women and their right to reproductive privacy. Recent decisions in the Gonzales cases are expected to trigger even more political debate.
As this Human Rights issue was going into production, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, contrary to the lower courts' decisions, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is constitutional even if it does not provide explicitly for exceptions to the use of the banned procedure in cases where it is medically necessary to protect women's health.
As health care delivery becomes increasingly dependent on complex information systems, significant privacy and confidentiality concerns have developed. Medical advances are a certainty, and with them, additional developments in law relating to personal information will follow.
In the 1960s, Congress began looking at how best to safeguard the fundamental right of privacy in a world increasingly transformed by new technology. As the technology will only become more sophisticated, the Section and the ABA will continue to face many more challenges to privacy protection.
Two past presidents of the ABA reflect on the years they spent as IRR chairs and the challenges they faced and how those challenges have resurfaced in recent years.
IRR's fortieth anniversary reminds us of those who have worked tirelessly over four decades in the endless struggle for human rights.