Poor Women Pay the Price in the Right’s War on Women’s Health
On Friday, February 18, the U.S. House of Representatives dealt a crushing blow to the health and well-being of millions of women across America: in a 240-185 vote, the the House approved H.R. 1 -- also known the Pence Amendment -- which would prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding for any purpose, including providing basic preventive health care to women and families. Consider it a slap in the face to women in general, especially to low-income women who have nowhere else to turn for their primary health care.
At present, Planned Parenthood provides nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, 830,000 breast exams, more than a million Pap tests, and helps prevent more than 612,000 unintended pregnancies each year. Annually, three million women and men in the United States visit Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers for trusted health care services and information; for some of those clients, largely those that are low-income, the nurses and doctors at Planned Parenthood are the only health care providers they ever see.
Because we at the Ms. Foundation for Women believe, without question or qualification, that all women are due the fundamental human right to quality reproductive health, education and services, we have been a long-time partner and supporter of Planned Parenthood affiliates nationwide. We currently count Planned Parenthood of Utah, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Southeast (which covers Georgia Alabama and Mississippi), and the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts among our cherished grantees. And today, in light of the shocking news out of the House of Representatives, we are ever more committed to the goals of Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights, health and justice organizations whose efforts protect and value the lives of women across America.
For those of us who have stood on the front lines of the reproductive justice movement for years, there's no doubting that this attack on Planned Parenthood is a not-so-covert attack on abortion rights. Planned Parenthood has been targeted, in this case, because it does provide (among many other services) abortions to a small percentage of its clients. This is a fact that Conservatives like Rep. Mike Pence, who authored the bill, abhor -- and will apparently go to deeply irrational lengths to prevent. Because whatever your stance on abortion may be, there's no mistaking that providing preventative health care to millions of women, men and families is in fact a good thing. Preventative services save lives, and, in the long-run, save money -- an outcome you'd imagine this "pro-life” and "fiscally conservative" cadre from the Right could get behind.
Instead, the Right has chosen to make millions of everyday Americans, many of them low-income, the collateral damage in their war on reproductive rights. The impact of the proposed funding cuts would likely be immediate and stunning. “Without Title X funding for Planned Parenthood in Atlanta, we can anticipate seeing more women who can only afford to purchase their birth control but cannot afford an exam," says Leola Reis, spokesperson for our grantee group PP Southeast. "We anticipate increases in undiagnosed cancers and STDs, and over all increasingly poor health outcomes for Georgians.”
That is a reality we, as a nation, can little afford to promote. Subjecting women and other vulnerable communities to reductions in health care access in the name of budget cuts and moral wranglings over abortion is both dangerous and absurd. Those of us who value women's lives and the health of our nation must do all we can to push back against the rising tide of anti-woman and anti-justice rhetoric emanating every day from the Right.
"Morality," Rebecca Traister noted recently in Salon, "is not the exclusive domain of the unborn, whatever we have been told for decades. Morality is on the side of women, on the side of children, on the side of a society that offers aid to its impoverished and to its young and does not discriminate against half its population."
From our perspective, there's no question that Planned Parenthood stands on the just side of our moral arc – one that focuses health and lives of women. We are as proud as we ever have been to stand alongside Planned Parenthood.
This piece was first published by the Ms. Foundation for Women, Igniting Change.