Women's issues have been on my mind lately, as recent events and the ensuing political rhetoric have thrust women's health care and other concerns into the spotlight again. Although some say such rhetoric is just a way for politicians to bolster their standing with key constituencies, I think we need to pay attention, lest politics become policy.
In April a resolution calling for an amendment to an appropriations bill (HR 1473) was introduced in the House of Representatives; the proposed amendment would have prohibited federal funding for any programs of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., and for any of its affiliates. In remarks before the House, Representative Mike Pence (R-Indiana) said, “It is morally wrong to take the taxpayer dollars of millions of prolife Americans and use them to subsidize the largest abortion provider in America.” The resolution (H.Con.Res. 36 [112th Congress]) was just the latest in several efforts by Republicans to drastically cut federal funding for family planning programs. On April 14, the resolution passed in the House by a vote of 241 to 185, but was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 58 to 42. But several states, including Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas, have already pursued or are considering similar legislation. According to an Associated Press report, Texas is currently embroiled in two federal lawsuits in which the main issue is “whether the state can impose political conditions on a private health care provider that fulfills government contracts.”
Abortion is an issue that rouses passion among both supporters and opponents. It's an issue associated with strongly held moral, religious, and personal convictions; there's probably no other issue that divides this country more. But these efforts to cut funding for Planned Parenthood are misguided. First, the use of federal funds for abortion is already prohibited by law, and has been since the Title X Family Planning program was signed into law by then president Richard Nixon in 1970. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Title X is “the only Federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.” So by cutting federal funding to Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, state legislators would be eliminating funding for essential health services such as Pap tests and breast cancer screenings, tests and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and family planning and prenatal services. They would also be denying these services to people unlikely to have access elsewhere: 76% of those who used Planned Parenthood's services in 2010 had incomes “at or below 150% of the federal poverty level.” Does Planned Parenthood offer abortions? Yes, but abortion services are separately funded and operated, and constituted only 3% of all services in 2010. If state efforts to cut all funding for Planned Parenthood and its affiliates succeed, who will provide the safety net for the 3 million Americans, largely women, who rely on these entities for health care annually? Those in the defunding camp claim that these women can get health care elsewhere, but why must they be forced to do that? The real question is, why should women's access to health services be dependent on whatever ideologies currently prevail among legislators?
More recently, a brouhaha erupted over a comment made by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, who inferred that Ann Romney, the wife of the presumed Republican presidential candidate, couldn't speak to economic issues because she had “never worked a day in her life.” Ann Romney replied (in her debut on Twitter) that raising five sons was hard work indeed. Expressions of outrage and exhaustive commentary quickly flooded the media. And for once most of us could agree on something: that a woman's choice as to how to define her role is a personal one and should be respected. I couldn't agree more.
It wasn't so long ago that women were prohibited from voting or owning property. We laugh now at the ridiculousness of this—but have we really progressed all that much if women's health and lifestyle choices can still be subject to the approval of others?