Stalling Over Birth Control

It is bewildering that Barack Obama sacrificed women's rights and health in a vain attempt to woo Republican ideologues

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.

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."

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Copyright (c) 2009 The Nation - distributed by Agence Global

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