The memorable and courageous speech that California Representative Jackie Speier delivered on the House floor last week, challenging the Republican effort to defund Planned Parenthood by sharing her personal experience of having an abortion for medical reasons, captured the frustration and anger of millions of American women.
At a time when the world watches the rippling revolutions in the Mideast, there is another war being conducted at home – a political war being waged against women.
Let’s be clear: what is at stake in the battle to eliminate Title X funding for Planned Parenthood is nothing less than an attempt to deny equality to women, an effort to restrict our social freedom and economic independence by taking away our right to determine when and if we will have a family.
The Republican war on women is not new, of course. Most recently, in November 2009, the Republicans prevented coverage for abortions in the health care reform bill, a deal that Democrats accepted to get the legislation passed.
The right to control her own body, and thus to determine her course in life, is among the most powerful issues affecting a woman. Now that the Republicans hold a majority in the House, and have increased their overall numbers in Congress, they have ramped up their attacks on institutions that empower women to exercise this right, starting with Planned Parenthood and the range of health and family planning services the group provides.
The Pence Amendment that was passed by the House on Feb. 18th eliminates $327 million in national family planning programs. Title X does not fund abortions; it does, however, provide a range of preventive health care such as contraception, pre-and post-natal care, cancer screenings and other health services for women, men and infants.
For every dollar spent on family planning the federal government saves four dollars in additional spending. The loss of Title X funding would prove particularly costly for California, where a Guttmacher Institute study shows these programs saved $581,890,000 in public funds in 2008.
As California Congresswoman Lois Capps put it on the floor of the House, the Pence Amendment is an “all-out Republican assault on women’s health.”
“By helping women and couples plan and space their pregnancies, family planning services have led to healthier mothers and children and have been instrumental in the long struggle for women’s equality in education, the workforce, and society.”
Other outrageous legislation pending in the House of Representatives would deny Title X funding if a clinic uses non-tax dollars for an abortion (HR217); allow a hospital to refuse to save a pregnant woman’s life if there was a threat to the fetus (HR358); impose penalties on private employers who offer health plans that would fund abortions (HR3).
The war against women is being waged on many fronts. In other states, legislatures are attempting to redefine rape victims as accusers, make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortions, and cut food and services for low-income women and their families as well as services for poor seniors, two-thirds of whom are women.
Planned Parenthood has issued a challenge to the U.S. Senate to stand with them, and to preserve the services provided by the 800 health centers funded by Title X. Feminist organizations are sending email blasts and have activated their phone banks. The call has gone out to save family planning heath care for women.
Vulnerable women has long been targets for the right wing. Women in America have fought for equality for two centuries. Suffragists went to jail to win the right to vote in 1918; despite progress made since then, it has been a slow advance. Violence, lack of affordable childcare, unequal pay and representation are among the problems many women face daily.
We have an obligation to our mothers and our daughters to keep fighting. We owe it to them to keep women out of the back alleys. We will not give in and we will not go back.
Susan Rose is a former Santa Barbara County Supervisor. She previously served as the Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women and was a founding member of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee.