The War on Women

From the June 2012 PNL # 815

Betty DeFazio

The saddest thing is most women don’t know how much danger we could be in.–written by a 32-year old Planned Parenthood volunteer on her Facebook page

This gut-wrenching remark causes the hair on the back of my neck to rise because she is completely correct. Birth control and family planning are being attacked even though most people in the US view contraception as essential care.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Women are major consumers of health care services, negotiating not only their own complex health care but often managing care for their family members as well. Their reproductive health needs, as well as their greater rates of health problems and longer life spans compared with men, make women’s relationships with the health care system complex. Women are also more likely to be low-income and often face the added challenge of balancing work with family health and caregiving responsibilities. For the one in five women who are uninsured, access to high quality, comprehensive care is even more difficult.”

So, when did the “war on women” start?

Some argue that restrictions began shortly after the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. They point to the 1976 Hyde Amendment passage, which makes it illegal for federal funds to be used for abortion except in rare circumstances.

Yet, from my vantage point it has gotten far worse in the last two years. Even in April 2004, when we organized the “March for Women’s Lives” during then President George W. Bush’s administration, the attacks on Planned Parenthood and women’s access to reproductive health care weren’t at the fever pitch they seem to be at today. Don’t get me wrong, things were bad then, too. However, things have ramped up even more.

The Guttmacher Institute’s winter 2012 policy review reports more than half of US women of reproductive age (15-44) now live in states that are hostile to abortion.

In early 2011, the newly-elected Republicans in the US House of Representatives, in one of their first acts, tried to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, putting many low-income women at risk of losing their only health care. Despite their 2010 campaign promises to focus on jobs and the economy, the House immediately attacked social safety net programs like family planning.

Then, they moved to repeal the Affordable Care Act even though it represents the greatest single advance for women’s access to health care in a generation. More access means healthier women and healthier families by:

•Providing 20 million more women with preventive care without co-pays;
•Increasing access to contraception;
•Expanding access for women (especially young women) who will be newly eligible for insurance coverage;
•Ending discriminatory practices against women; and
•Allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.

And if the ongoing misinformation campaign about the federal program called “Title X,” which strictly uses federal funds for family planning and not for abortion isn’t enough, there is the explosion of “ballot initiatives” across the country such as efforts to:

• Define “personhood” from the moment of conception;
•Shame women into changing their mind about abortion rather than supporting them to take care of their health and well-being;
•Add barriers to access by implementing unnecessary and invasive procedures or delays.

Those are just the attacks on a policy level. Not included are the attempts by Catholic Bishops to limit women’s access to birth control, nor the efforts to pressure organizations that partner with Planned Parenthood to disaffiliate with us.

When I speak with supporters, they are thankful to be living in “progressive” New York. Yet, like the volunteer noted, New Yorkers “…don’t know how much danger we could be in” if we don’t pass the Reproductive Health Act this year.

Some citizens are aware of the threat. A recent survey shows that more than half of New York voters are concerned about the possibility that the federal government could make abortion illegal. With New Yorkers concerned that a woman’s health care decisions could be taken away, it is time for the state legislature to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which:

•Guarantees a woman can make her own personal, private health decisions, especially when her health is endangered.
•Treats the regulation of abortion as a public health and medical practice issue rather than as a potential crime.
•Affirms New Yorkers’ right to use (or refuse) contraception, regardless of what politicians in Congress decide.

Outside my office is a 2003 poster Planned Parenthood created for the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It shows a 1970s photograph of a woman holding an infant, and the caption reads, “My mom and me. She votes Republican. She is conservative, middle-class, patriotic housewife. And, if you take away our right to choose our future, she will march with me. The freedom gained in her lifetime won’t be lost in mine.

While there are continued attacks on Planned Parenthood nationally, the fight against women’s access to reproductive health care has gone local with more than 1,000 state bills! Despite these challenges, Planned Parenthood health centers are continuing to serve millions of women, men and young people, and are working to create the healthiest generation ever.

Reproductive health issues and rights should not be a partisan issue. Women don’t turn to politicians for advice about birth control, mammograms, cancer screenings or treatments. Politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal decisions about her pregnancy. All political leaders should support access to reproductive health care services regardless of their party affiliation.

Planned Parenthood works to end this assault on reproductive health by maintaining strong education and advocacy programs. You can get involved, by going to:

Betty is the Executive Director for Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region Action Fund.