Last week, the House of Representatives passed a series of bills that would cut funding to Planned Parenthood, threatening the health care of three million low-income women in America. In the predominantly Democratic Senate, the bills are not expected to pass.
Republican Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind) is sponsoring the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act. The bill would cut federal funding to organizations that offer abortion services, in spite of the fact that the use federal funds for abortion is already illegal.
Two related bills – the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and the Protect Life Act – target insurance companies that subsidize abortion costs and hospitals that provide abortion services. The first of these bills also sought to redefine rape, before public outcry forced the GOP to withdraw the wording.
Together, these bills would eliminate Title X, the government’s program for family planning services, cutting funding from $317 million per year to zero.
Pence is notorious for making the eradication of abortion rights his first priority. He argues that although tax dollars cannot directly be used towards abortions, funding Planned Parenthood facilitates its continued operation and ability to provide abortions.
“If Planned Parenthood wants to be involved in providing counseling services and HIV testing, they ought not to be in the business of providing abortions,” said Pence. “As long as they aspire to do that, I’ll be after them.”
Pence and his supporters have suggested no alternative forms of health care for low-income women. College of Communications senior Sarah Berg (COM’11) says these bills are aimed at minority women of low socio-economic status.
“It cannot be ignored that this huge effect of [the House’s] decision reeks of classism and racism. By denying women in need access to reproductive technologies, the government in effect reduces their chances to escape poverty,” said Berg.
Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi called the bills “the most comprehensive and radical assault on women’s health in our lifetime.”
Planned Parenthood currently receives about a quarter of Title X funds, making it the leading healthcare provider for low-income women. It’s services include cancer screenings, STD treatment, birth control, HIV counseling, and of course, abortions – which account for less than 10 percent of patient visits.
One Boston University student in the College of Arts and Sciences, who wishes to remain anonymous, had an abortion at the Planned Parenthood on Commonwealth Avenue in January 2010. She shared her experience via an e-mail interview.
“[My experience] was as positive as it could be. The nurses and doctors were well informed, educated, and empathetic. They also included a free STD screening, check-up appointments, an educational session, and birth control [with my abortion],” she wrote, adding, “I think it’s far more irresponsible to bring a child that you cannot support emotionally or financially into an overpopulated world with a serious poverty problem.”
This student said that she did not encounter any pro-life protesters outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic.
Not all pro-lifers support the bills, as pro-life Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch shows.
“This is about the ability of Planned Parenthood to conduct women’s health care, to offer services that are deeply needed in many communities where no other source of health care is available,” Lynch said. “I don’t have many friends in the Planned Parenthood community. They don’t support me. I am pro-life. But I respect the good work they do.”
When President Obama was asked about his stance on these bills, he deflected the question, saying political attention should be focused on the economy. However, he also questioned the credibility of anti-abortion group Live Action’s recently-published videos that target Planned Parenthood.
Pro-choice backlash against the House’s vote has been enormous thus far. One hundred members of Congress signed a letter calling the bills harmful, and online communities supporting Planned Parenthood have sprung to action, organizing “Walks for Choice” in 50 cities across America including Boston and extending as far as Melbourne, Australia.
Some opposing the bills argue they are unconstitutional because the proposed laws are bills of attainders. A bill of attainder is legislation that enacts a penalty aimed at a certain demographic – in this case, low-income women.
“How can there be equal opportunity when there isn’t even equal access?” commented an anonymous CAS sophomore. “As humans, our health and sexual practices should be a right, it shouldn’t be constricted due to our economic standings.”
Berg says she does not feel the government looks after her rights as a woman.
“Only a small percentage of the government pays attention to women’s issues. The majority have their own agendas revolving around pleasing their constituents… Additionally, a lot of women in office are forced to tip-toe around women’s issues for fear of being labeled ‘too feminist,’” said Berg. “Until voters prioritize women’s issues, grassroots and non-profit organizations will continue to serve women’s interests better than the government does.”