Feb 15, 2011

Playing Chicken With Women's Health

Now that the Republican House is up and running, as part of the GOP's pledge to focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs,” they’ve decided to target…wait for it… women’s health. Did you know that America’s unemployment crisis was caused by too many low-income women having access to high-quality gynecological care?

In all seriousness – some illustrious members of Congress have decided that a great way to cut the deficit would be to cut the funding for women’s health care that’s provided through a legislative provision called Title X of the Public Health Service Act. Title X provides grant money to health care providers to subsidize care for poor women. Nearly 5 million women get care from nearly 5,000 health care centers through this program. 

So what’s the problem? Well, for some conservatives, there are several. The general problem is that this care comes under the rubric of “family planning,” and conservatives don’t like to think that women are independent enough to have access to birth control and to be able to make wise decisions about how to use it. Never mind that along with birth control comes preventive gynecological care, screening for diseases like diabetes and hypertension, counseling about safer sex, and other primary care that poor women often don’t get anywhere else.

The specific problem is that about a third of these women get their care through Planned Parenthood clinics. Conservatives Do Not Like Planned Parenthood.

No Title X money has ever gone to pay for abortion care, and indeed Planned Parenthood and other recipients have to enact all kinds of artificial barriers within their practices in order to make sure that’s true – but they do so, in compliance with the law. Nevertheless, conservatives are just sure that Title X money is funding abortions. That’s their line, anyway, but I’m pretty sure the problem isn’t just abortion: it’s the whole idea of women having control over their own bodies and reproduction (and, therefore, their own lives) that freaks out lots of conservatives.

I’m writing my dissertation about Title X and other government programs that pay for family planning services for low-income women, and here’s why: in 1970, when Congress passed Title X, it did so *unanimously* in the Senate and by an overwhelming margin in the House of Representatives. At the time, supporters called access to birth control a “fundamental human right” for women. If there’s anything about the Nixon years that I’m nostalgic for, it’s this: the broad acceptance of the idea that women should be able to decide when they have kids. That  just doesn’t seem so radical, but apparently now, 40 years later, House Republicans think it is.

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