If you’re anything like me, you might be wondering if somehow you’ve been transported back in time, to when family planning was inaccessible and abortion was illegal. Incredulously, it is 2011 – not 1950 – and here we are, fighting for reproductive rights as if we never even had them. If Congress has its way, that’s exactly what 2012 will bring: a complete reversal of these rights. From the proposed 2012 budget that cuts funding for family planning services to a bill that outright denies women lifesaving abortions, we are in the midst of the biggest uphill battle in recent history.
H.R. 358, the “Protect Life Act” (or as I like to call it, the “Let Women Die Act”), which allows hospitals to deny women abortion care even if it means they will die without it, passed in the House this October. This reverses decades of precedent. Under current law, all patients are protected by the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act, which requires hospitals to provide treatment to any patient in an emergency, regardless of ability to pay. This new bill creates an exception for pregnant women. If that isn’t discriminating against a specific class of people, I don’t know what is.
The bill also sets out to ban all insurance coverage for abortion by denying federal subsidies to plans that cover abortion, even though private funds must already be segregated to cover any abortion care. This will ultimately result in a ban on abortion coverage for individuals and small businesses accessing coverage through the health care exchanges, and threatens all private insurance coverage of abortion.
It doesn’t end there, either. H.R. 358 vastly expands conscience clause protections so that anyone involved in the provision of abortion services – from receptionists who make appointments to insurance company employees that process claims – can refuse to provide services on any grounds. So much for being able to make private medical decisions with your doctor; any anti-choice cog in the health care wheel can obstruct you from obtaining an abortion.
Every single Republican voted in favor of H.R. 358, as did 11 Democrats. While the bill is not likely to pass in the Senate, it serves as a stark reminder that to many elected officials, women’s health is nothing more than a political bargaining chip. This bill is not about funding or protecting life. It is about cutting abortion access so that only a small, privileged percent of Americans can afford it. These politicians are willing to do whatever it takes to keep abortion out of reach, even if it means women must forfeit their lives. Call me crazy, but I don’t see how letting women die is in any way, shape, or form “pro-life.”
Keeping true to form, the House leadership’s draft Fiscal Year 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services appropriation bill also takes a stab at abortion and family planning, in complete defiance of the thousands who protested across the country and descended on the Capitol to save family planning funding in the 2011 budget. The proposed budget rehashes a lot of what the House has already tried to accomplish through extreme bills and budget cuts. According to RH Reality Check, the new budget would prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood through programs such as Medicaid, which provides low-income women with preventative health care; eliminate funding for the Title X Family Planning Program, which provides access to family planning that helps millions of low-income women avoid unintended pregnancies; ban insurance coverage of abortion in the new health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act; eliminate new benefits in the Affordable Care Act that cover women’s preventative services like mammograms, cancer screenings, and birth control; and cut the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative by $65 million, stipulating that $20 million of that money must be used to provide abstinence-only education, which was proven ineffective in a Congressionally mandated nine-year study in 2007.
Once again, the House leadership defies common logic. If you want to reduce the rate of abortion, decimating access to family planning and culling resources for abstinence-only education is not going to help achieve that goal. Conservatives are finally showing their cards: it’s not just about abortion. It’s about fundamentally controlling women’s lives, from the bedroom to the doctor’s office. What else could explain the attacks on birth control (which 99% of women use at some point in their lives), comprehensive sex education, and even general preventative health care?
It is a sad and revolting time when ideological agendas trump medicine and basic human decency. If our current Congress’s record doesn’t provide a compelling example of why it’s important to vote for pro-choice and pro-women candidates, I don’t know what does. With the 2012 Presidential election on the horizon, it’s absolutely critical that we shout our demands:
We demand access to comprehensive health care, including preventive services, family planning, and abortion. We demand the best available medical care, especially if our lives are at stake. We demand that our concerns be heeded by the politicians elected to serve us. And we demand that women’s lives be at least as valued as much as the life of a fetus.
This article originally appeared in NOW-NYC’s Winter 2011 newsletter.