Senator James Jeffords of Vermont announced today that he has changed his party affiliation from Republican to Independent. Leading with the issue of reproductive choice, he changed the political equation in Washington. “Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances where I’ll disagree with the President on very fundamental issues–the issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax and spending decisions… and a host of other issues,” Jeffords said during his very frank press conference this morning. Jeffords also listed the environment, energy, and education among his leading reasons for leaving the Republican party. His beliefs, Jeffords implied, have not changed, but Bush, who campaigned as a moderate, had gone too far to the right. Jeffords’ decision shifts the balance in the Senate, giving the Democrats control. The Democrats will not only regain the leadership of all Senate committees but will regain the majorities of all committees. These changes will be crucial to women’s and reproductive rights, as pro-choice Democrats will replace anti-choice Republicans as heads of key committees. For example, Jesse Helms (R-NC) will be replaced by Joseph Biden (D-DE) as head of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will replace Orrin Hatch (R-UT) as head of the Judiciary Committee.