Planned Parenthood and the War Against Women
By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz
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.
Thank you Ms. Rose. You speak eloquently to many of the issues women now face under GOP political control. Despite their claim to be pro-life, Republicans have cut programs that save lives. And, as you point out, actually threaten the lives of women.
They have cut education and nutrition programs that give our children a chance at a better life–with one GOP lawmaker saying that children don’t need pre-school because their mothers should be married so they can stay home and take care of them. I don’t know what world that man lives in, but it’s not one many of us have ever seen.
I not only want women to have the choice of when to have children, but the choice to have a career that pays as much as men make, to make our own decisions about whether and when to marry, and the right to hold our own property. Many of these hard-won rights for women are fairly recent in the U.S. Some we haven’t achieved yet. But Republicans seem determined to take them all away from us and push women back to the 1700s. Or maybe to Saudi Arabia.
While this may all be an attack on women, the Repubs who promulgate it are not smart enough to think of it that way. They just got the votes now and are making hay while voters still believe that Republicans in Congress give a damn about the fiscal health of the nation and the well being of the majority of lazy voters.
Dems need to morph this into an fiscal debate and argue how family planning pays.
In what way are they making hay? I can see that they’re trying to lock in votes from social conservatives. But they already had their votes. Other than a few renegades like Bart Stupak, it wasn’t like anti-abortion voters were going to vote Democratic. So I’m not sure I understand that argument.
Those who voted for them to cut government spending are likely to be disappointed for a few reasons: First, the Senate is not likely to pass the big cuts they’ve made and the White House will veto others. They can say they tried, they did their best. But that may or may not fly. Second, voters don’t really want the cuts they say they do. But when schools get worse, their kids can’t afford college, their own unemployment/Medicaid/Medicare/Social Security/food stamps get cut, they’ll sing a different tune. Polls quite consistently show that voters don’t want cuts to any of that spending, and don’t–in fact–even realize they are government programs. Even voters who want defense cuts may feel differently when the base in their community is closed or the local defense contractor lays people off because they’ve lost a big boondoggle project. And, last but not least, most economists agree that these cuts are likely to hurt the economy–not help it. I’m sure Republicans will find somebody else to blame it on–probably Senate Democrats or the president. But, even if they do get cuts through, the economy is likely to get worse because of them. They will, at the very least, cost jobs. As we just saw in Ireland, voters tend to punish the politicians in power for their economic pain. So where that blame lands depends on who does the best messaging.
Finally, while family planning certainly does pay in many ways, I don’t see that as the primary reason why voters come down on one side or another. You either believe rabidly that every life is sacred, no matter what its quality or the impact it has on others–or even on the planet. Or you believe we should not bear children who cannot survive, but will die horrible deaths. That living women have at least as many rights as unborn fetuses and should not be forced to bear them at risk of their own health and lives. That girls who are no more than children themselves should not bear the physical and emotional trauma of giving birth through rape and incest. That our planet is doomed to become unlivable for humanity if we continue to mindlessly breed like rabbits. (Unlike the GOP state legislator who recently opined that natural resources are infinite. When we exhaust them, God will replenish them!) None of these are really financial arguments, except possibly the medical costs for terribly deformed babies and the costs of environmental degradation–and those are so huge that it’s hard for most people to wrap their head around them. And, despite many, many studies that show children who grow up in poverty are at much higher risk to drop out of school and even wind up in jail, that’s usually too long a time horizon for most voters to look at either. It was one of the things I admired about Howard Dean. As governor of Vermont, he saw their pioneering Head Start programs as a way to keep kids in school and out of jail later in life. He said, “I hope in 30 years, we’ll see more kids graduating from college, and fewer going to prison.” Unusually forward thinking in my experience of politicians. So I think most of the fiscal debates on this, while real and compelling to somebody who’s willing to look at them, are not likely to work with “the majority of lazy voters.”
Which brings us back to the idea that this is a war on women. Many very conservative people are devoted to the status quo. The way things were are the way they should stay forever. Most don’t advocate a return to the days before women had the vote. But they certainly think Leave it to Beaver is almost gospel. Those were the good old days before women got so uppity and caused all these problems. Life was simple and good then. And the main change they see is that most women didn’t work outside the home. Only poor ones had to be cleaning ladies and maids. And that didn’t count. If they could just keep us pregnant, they could control us. They could make us wear heels and pearls and bring a cold cocktail to our men when they get home from a hard day at the office. Life would be so much safer.
You may be right. They may not realize they’re trying to recreate a Hollywood fantasy that never really existed off of the back lot. But they are. And they’re trying to do it by controlling my life, my health, and my body. And that’s not a fiscal debate.
77% of the leaders in the anti-abortion movement are men. Suffice to say, none of us will ever have to make that difficult choice. The very personal issue regarding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is solely a private matter between a woman, her doctor and her Maker. It’s none of my concern as a man to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her own body. Period.
And that’s how I terminate such a discussion. Works every time.
Thank you Donald. I appreciate your insight and tact. I wish more men shared it. Because, as you rightly point out, it is mostly men driving this.