The Budgetary War on Women


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.