The Budgetary War on Women

Thursday, March 03, 2011


Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer ShowMelissa Harris-Perry, columnist at The Nation magazine and associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, talks about how women and women's issues are affected by budget cuts.

Politician’s agenda items hitchhiking a ride on other issues is nothing new, and now a wave of legislation dealing with reproductive health has attached itself tolegislation addressing the budget deficit, in a move that the New York Times called the “war on women” in an editorial last weekend. 

The Pence amendment - sponsored by Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence - finding its way into the House budget bill last week is one such hitchiker. The amendment calls for the defunding of the portion of Planned Parenthood that does not provide abortions (as abortion services already do not receive any federal funding); reimposes the gag rule for US aid to clinics that mention abortion as an option — even if they don’t provide the service itsefl; and eliminates federal funding for the family planning law Title Ten. The Allan Guttmacher Institute think tank found that these cutbacks could actually lead to a surge of as many as 400,000 more abortions through a rise in unintended pregnancies.

There have also been calls to change the healthcare reform law so that the health insurance exchanges cannot include coverage plans that would include abortion — even those that would require a woman to pay the full cost of an abortion-coverage rider entirely with no subsidy. Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Pitts is going after the hospitals themselves - his proposal is to allow hospitals that receive federal funds to refuse to terminate a pregnancy, even if it is determined to be medically necessary to save the woman’s life. 

Melissa Harris-Perry said that what is happening now is a case of fiscal constraints forcing politicians to be clear about what our priorities are.

When there aren’t sufficient resources... people use this as an opportunity to begin to shape and craft the kind of social agenda that they’re interested in.

Harris-Perry believes the Pence amendment is both about targeting a service which provides abortions and limiting women’s access to contraception.

There’s no doubt that defunding Planned Parenthood will have a disproportionate impact on women with the fewest resources... those who don’t have private OB/gyns where they can go and receive care, counseling, even abortion services under other names. That means [only] women of the most privilege will have those opportunities.

Part of the aim of this legislation, she said, is to roll back lifestyle gains made by white women from the last few generations. She said while white women have had the most success in gaining economic parity, they are now in the position of having become  competitors with men.   

In this economic environment, where people are having a great deal of anxiety about unemployment, one way that conservatives imagine addressing this unemployment crisis is actually moving women out of the work force as competitors. Especially pink collar women, getting them back into the private sphere of the home producing babies for the purpose of a demographic shifting towards American whiteness and away from the browning of America that we see demographically, for them solves a variety of moral, ethical, economic and ethnic anxieties.

Sixty percent of people seeking term services already have one child, which Harris-Perry said is evidence that these women already have a very clear understanding of the economic and personal sacrifices required. 

They’re often making excruciating personal decisions to protect the life of the children that currently exist, for whom they are responsible, by not bringing another unintended pregnancy to term.

The notion that these cutbacks in access to contraceptive services may cause more abortions she believes is perfectly in keeping with the attempt to create compulsory motherhood. 

Let’s be really clear that what we know from any peek at women’s history, is that when women are in circumstances that are economically or personally dire, and they feel unable to carry a pregnancy to term, they do seek termination services, even when those services are illegal, even when they are difficult to find, even when they are often dangerous. So not only would we expect a rise in abortions, we might also expect a rise in negative outcomes for women’s health.


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Comments [14]


RLewis - the conservatives also think it's fine for govt to interfere with anything that threatens their poisonous food system or multinational corporations.

Mar. 03 2011 01:15 PM

Ben S from C-land: Mind your own business! What would YOU know about anything to do with reproductive issues for women, unless your name is Benita or something.

And even if abortion scars women, so do knitting needles and hungry, lost children they can't afford to raise properly. And it's none of your business what I decide to do with my own life and body, no matter what your article ahs to say. It's an opinion. I have rights!

Mar. 03 2011 01:13 PM
Ben S. from C-Land

No, the budget is not targeting women, but protecting women. Abortion is violent, and leaves many emotional scars on both mothers and fathers. Read more here:

Mar. 03 2011 11:55 AM
Amy from Manhattan

For years, in speeches by both right- & left-wing politicians, "Americans" has been replaced by "American families." Not every time, but often enough to make it sound as if single Americans aren't worth mentioning or considering.

Mar. 03 2011 11:25 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Once again, I humbly submit the "Brave New World" solution wherein marriage would be abolished, and children produced by corporations for the state and not by "families," that quaint relic of the past. If you want true equality and to eliminate most of these problems, then eliminate "marriage" once and for all. It's a sinking ship that sooner abandoned, the better.

Mar. 03 2011 11:24 AM
Jennifer from Princeton

The conservatives don't want any "government interference" except when it comes to legislating what women can do with their own bodies.

Mar. 03 2011 11:21 AM
Dorothy from Mangattab

Ms. Harris-Perry is absolutely right -- I hadn't thought of this issue in terms of demographics, but she's got a very strong point. (Don't believe it? Check out some right wing message boards and/or blogs.)

On a more basic level, de-funding Planned Parenthood, abortions, etc. is an effort to control women's sexuality - Sex is for procreation, not for fun.

We thought "The Handmaid's Tale" was fiction, but it's not.

Mar. 03 2011 11:20 AM
sasha from queens

Jewish law requires the life of the mother to be saved over that of the fetus when the life of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy. This is also a first amendment issue.

Mar. 03 2011 11:19 AM
John Lobell from NYC

It would be nice to have some quotes from conservatives to demonstrate this position -- what I have heard is conservatives objecting that 60% of BLACK pregnancies are aborted.

Mar. 03 2011 11:18 AM
Nick from UWS


Mar. 03 2011 11:16 AM
gene from NYC

"hitchhike" on an issue?


"hijack" it?

Mar. 03 2011 11:15 AM
RLewis from the Bowery

Does your guest know how conservatives who are all about smaller government and keeping it out of our lives justify all this government intrusion into the lives of women?

Mar. 03 2011 11:12 AM
Hazel Sharpe from Hudson County NJ

I wonder how many people know that insurance does not pay for birth control? Viagra - yes; birth control, no.

I've noticed for years that the loudest anti-choice voices on the right on men. Randall Terry has built a career on his virulent anti-choice position. It was a man, Scott Roeder, who shot Dr. Tiller. Eric Rudolph bombed two abortion clinics (and a lesbian bar). Michael Griffin murdered Dr. David Gunn. The loudest voices on the right are men; the loudest pro-choice voices on the left are women standing up for themselves - because they know no one else will.

I believe for anti-choice men the real issue is fear: fear of women, fear of women's bodies. They believe in an inherent right to control woman and their bodies. It is most definitely has nothing to do with the 'babies'. If men cared so much about children we would see a lot more men teaching kindergarten, working in day care, etc.

Mar. 03 2011 10:49 AM

and mens and womens issues also. a lot of men, don't want to talk about reproductive rights, because it does not look cool. and a lot of women don't welcome men on this issue. it is sad,because the people on the right ,welcome male input. a lot of men would welcome reproductive rights, as an issue to get involved in,but they don't have the proper forum to express it. i blame both men and women for the fundamentalist ridgidity around this issue. if women welcomed men and appealed to their greed around this issue,which is to say, guys, who only cared about not having children to provide for,then a whole lot more could be accomplished to defang the right. unfortunately,politically correct b.s. prohibits this,and we all suffer,men and women alike.

Mar. 03 2011 09:53 AM

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