To the outrage of many feminists and family planners, the Democrats heeded President Obama and dropped from the stimulus bill a provision that would have made it easier for states to offer contraception through Medicaid to low-income women not now covered by Medicaid. This followed several days in which Republicans mocked the item as frivolous pork - like Las Vegas's proposed Mob Museum or the reseeding of the national mall. And how dare Nancy Pelosi suggest that women should be helped to avoid unwanted pregnancies in the midst of an economic crisis? It's eugenics and China's one-child policy rolled into one.
You may wonder how it is that giving women more freedom to plan their kids equals forcing them not to have any? Ask Chris Matthews - that noted expert on women - who on his cable TV show, Hardball, seemed to think the United States had narrowly escaped becoming a reproductive gulag: "It turns out the idea of getting people to have fewer children didn't sell as national policy. Maybe people don't like Washington, which has done such a bang-up job regulating the sharpies on Wall Street, to decide it's now time to regulate the number of kids people might be in the mood for."
There are people who thought Obama practiced some clever political jiu-jitsu by bending over backwards to meet Republican objections. Supposedly, this bipartisan gesture would make it harder for Republicans to reject the bill. Whoops, guess not: The House Republicans voted against it unanimously.
Backup theory: Well, now Obama looks reasonable and statesmanlike, while Republicans look rigid and insane. The stimulus will pass, and Republicans will get no credit.
Oh, and low-income women get the shaft. But they should be used to it by now.
But then there are those who think birth control really doesn't belong in the bill. Online pundit Matt Yglesias writes, "Unlike some, I'm not per se outraged by the idea of dropping a family planning provision from the stimulus bill in response to conservative objections. I'm all for the provision, but it's genuinely tangential to the point of the bill, so if this is really what's standing between us and a universe in which a substantial number of conservatives get on the stimulus train so be it." And over at Slate's XX Factor, EJ Graff - rather surprisingly - agrees.
Is birth control tangential to the stimulus? Only if all health spending is, but no one (so far) is arguing that the massive sums for healthcare be removed from the bill. In fact, when it comes to keeping women hale and hearty, contraception is right up there with childhood vaccines and antibiotics. So, given that the stimulus bill contains other health provisions, including $4bn dollars for preventive care, why is contraception different? Because anti-choice Republicans say so? If healthcare belongs in the bill, and birth control is health care, then it is not "tangential". QED.
I would go further: Expanding access to contraception does indeed help the economy. The production, prescribing, buying and selling of birth control is an economic activity - funding more of it means more clinics, more clinic workers, more patients, more customers, more people making the products. Moreover, the provision removed from the stimulus bill would spend money now - about $550m over ten years, a drop in the bucket - to save the government more money later, as the Congressional Budget Office estimates would happen within a few years. And according to the New York Times, the CBO says it would save $200m over five years.
More important, what about the economics of actually existing women and families? This is no time to be saddling people with babies they don't want and can't provide for, who will further reduce the resources available for the kids they already have and further limit parents' ability to get an education or a job. In a Depression, birth rates go down for a reason: People. Have. No. Money.
Furthermore, when people lose their jobs they lose their health insurance. A year's supply of pills is around $600 retail. That's a significant amount of money to low-income women.
In his first week in office, President Obama did some really wonderful things for women. He overturned the global gag rule, indicated his support for resuming funding for the United Nations Family Planning Programme, signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act against pay discrimination and put education and healthcare high on the stimulus bill - thus ensuring women will get some of the work the bill will create.
It is bewildering that he sacrificed low-income women's rights and health in a vain bid to woo antediluvian rightwing misogynist Republican ideologues who will never, ever vote his way.