The opponents of Planned Parenthood are at it again. Or, I would say they're at it again but they've really never stopped. But these days it seems the attacks on reproductive health care and women's autonomy of their own bodies is on a constant feedback loop. It's no wonder it inspired the hyperbolic War on Women nickname. For many, being a woman has never felt so dangerous.
Just this past week, we've seen President Obama's Hail Mary save of Planned Parenthood clinics that would have closed in three states -- a full 10 states have voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, we also saw Arizona uphold a ban on abortions after the 20-week mark of pregnancy, which was thankfully blocked by the Ninth Circuit Court on Aug. 1. (In a stunning victory for reproductive rights, the House failed to pass HR3803, which would have imposed a similar abortion ban in the District of Columbia.)
How much more of this do we have to take?
In less than 12 months we've had the Let Women Die bill, the Catholic Church has fought birth control coverage (even though the majority of Catholics favor contraception), more laws passed to impeded access to abortions (transvaginal ultrasounds, 72-hour waiting periods), the Susan G. Komen debacle... Need I go on?
But clearly those of us in the pro-choice movement do need to go on. And on and on. Because what we are seeing again and again is Republicans using women's health care as a scapegoat, a red herring, in an election season that should be all about the economy and jobs. They want to distract voters. They want to distract all of us, like a magician using smoke-and-mirrors. In fact, for all of Speaker John Boehner's huffing and puffing about jobs bills passed, the evidence shows that those 30-odd bills aren't going to create any jobs at all. Ouch. No wonder they need a scapegoat.
And the hot seat is only going to get hotter for women as we near November. Just as Congress is going to recess for August, a bill in the House is sitting in committee, just waiting for a chance to dismantle in-roads for women's access to health care under the Affordable Health Care Act and from Title X funding (the same funds, first established by President Richard Nixon, that saved those Planned Parenthood clinics).
Women: Republicans are coming for us.
They are already circling the wagons over Obama's move to use Title X funds to save Planned Parenthood clinics in New Jersey, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Under federal law, Title X funds cannot be used for abortions. (Similarly, the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal money from ever being used to pay for abortions.) But that has not stopped the right-wing spin that Obama has actually thrown women under the bus in order to save Planned Parenthood, as was "reported" by Fox News.
The truth is, one in five women in America rely on Planned Parenthood for health care services -- ranging from routine check-ups, to PAP smears, to cancer screenings, and more, said Annette Magnus, public affairs manager of Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada."It's really important to know that Planned Parenthood is an essential health service provider," Magnus said. "When there are attacks on Planned Parenthood , it's not Planned Parenthood they are hurting, but the women and men we serve."
While Planned Parenthood is a non-partisan organization, Magnus said that when groups attack the health care group's funding, it usually backfires.
"I think attacking Planned Parenthood and attacking women has proven to be a losing endeavor," she said. "When you go after women's organizations, you lose."
And, Magnus points out, Title X funds are only part of what keeps Planned Parenthood's doors open. For instance, in the four-state region in the Southwest, in which Nevada operates, Title X funds run out half-way through the year, leaving the organization to subsidize their services through other funding.
But it's not all about Planned Parenthood. Anti-choice activists have other tricks up their sleeves -- namely the personhood movement.
In fact, personhood may be marching right to the Supreme Court. The personhood ballot initiatives, popping up in states across the country, seek to set a legal definition of life starting with a fertilized egg, rendering any attempt to "harm" that life -- from in vitro fertilization to abortion -- a crime. Ballot measures have already failed in Mississippi and Colorado. And they've failed in some pre-ballot court challenges, too. (Full disclosure: I was the lead plaintiff in a court challenge of a personhood ballot initiative in Nevada in 2009/10, and my state has been dealing with two more this election season.) After a court challenge of a personhood initiative failed in Oklahoma, anti-choice organizers have set their sights on the Supreme Court for a showdown that could have Constitutional ramifications.
There is no biological act, no part of the human body more regulated than a woman's reproductive system. (I don't see any laws requiring mandatory waiting periods when men buy condoms or laws requiring men to get probed if they want Viagra.) And with it, comes the biggest symbol we have as a society about the equality of all people. Are women equals in our society, capable of rational thought, education, career success... hell, even Olympic success? Not if we cannot have one of the most innate and intrinsic rights -- a birthright afforded every man without question -- to have complete and autonomous control over our bodies and therefore our personal destinies.
Indeed, as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer grabs headlines for being pregnant (and at the height of her career and a prestigious company), the basic question applies. What if Mayer didn't have control over her reproductive rights? What if Mayer never had access to affordable reproductive health care? What if she had no choice in her family planning? Would she be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company today? Would Olympic gold medalist beach volleyball team-mates Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor be vying for their third consecutive Olympic golds in the 2012 games in London right now? (Hint: Only one of them is a mother.)
It's maddening that women's health continues to be used as a bargaining chip, a scapegoat, a red herring... a distraction to voters. Again and again. And maybe if that was all that was happening, we could just laugh it off as a smoke monster and move on. But too many of these bills are getting through and women are losing.
And the cost is too high.