Mounting Threats to Women’s Healthcare Rights Create Anti-Woman Political Climate

-By Julia Woods, student staff

So far in 2012, our country has put women’s rights on trial. On the national level, conservative policy has shifted to restrict women’s access to health care, from demonizing everything abortion to birth control. Local Colorado politics have followed suit: some of our most basic liberties, such as the right to receive adequate healthcare, the right of each woman to her own individual sexuality, and the right to do as we choose with our own bodies, are all very much on the chopping block.

In January, the Susan G Komen Foundation for the Cure cut the majority of its funding to Planned Parenthood. This was widely recognized as a political cold-shoulder to America’s most well known abortion provider (although in reality, abortions make up only a tiny fraction of Planned Parenthood’s resources—other services include providing safer sex education, STI testing and treatment, prenatal services, birth control, transgender services, pap tests, and breast exams.) While Komen insisted that its decision was “not political,” no one could have argued that it was responsible. For many women, affordable breast cancer screening options are few and far between—in some areas Planned Parenthood is the only viable option. Limiting funding to Planned Parenthood would have meant reducing these services, and thus jeopardizing women’s health. Understandably, public support rapidly drained support from the breast cancer charity until it was forced to return funding. While this is a short-term victory for women’s healthcare access, the long term remains more uncertain.

In March, Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke testified for the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in favor of a private mandate for contraception coverage. She stated that lack of birth control access could cause financial hardship, unwanted pregnancy, and even exacerbate some medical conditions. In her opinion, because birth control has many vital uses besides preventing pregnancy, providing it should not conflict with the values of religious organizations. Fluke was one of a few prominent female perspectives in the larger mandatory birth control debate even presented to the public—so, predictably, Rush Limbaugh met her testimonial with tremendous misogyny. Limbaugh dubbed her a “slut,” and equated greedy opportunism with the viewpoint that every woman, regardless of religious identity, should have access to birth control should she want or need it. “She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception,” Limbaugh raved. “She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.” A half-hearted movement to pull his sponsorship buzzed in social media for a few days following his comments, but this died down after Limbaugh released a snarky apology for his “word choice.”  Limbaugh’s ratings have since increased dramatically.

Recently in Idaho, a bill was introduced requiring women to get an ultrasound before receiving an abortion. By extending “informed consent” to include viewing the ultrasound of one’s fetus, its ultimate goal was to influence women not to abort. Engrained in this bill is the assumption that women who choose abortion do so carelessly: it assumes that women are simply unaware of the potential for life within them, and if they did know, they would keep the child.

Abortion is never an easy decision to make, but for some women it is a necessary one—while forcing a woman to view her ultrasound might needlessly distress her, it would not change the circumstances which lead her to chose abortion, and therefore would be ineffectual in reversing her choice. (Not that her choices about her own body are the government’s business.) Furthermore, given that most insurance providers do not cover medically unnecessary ultrasounds, many women would be forced to turn to CPC’s (crisis pregnancy centers,) to obtain the mandatory ultrasounds—thus exposing them to anther round of unsolicited judgment. The bill would also spur a slough of other problems, such as forcing some victims of sexual assault to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound.

By late March the bill had attracted enough flack that the GOP lawmakers and anti-abortion groups decided to pull the bill from the Idaho House of Representatives. However, says the President of Right to Life Idaho, “The debate is far form over.”

Meanwhile the Republican Party presidential candidates parade across the news in a campaign to bar women from receiving adequate healthcare. Mitt Romney has vowed to “get rid” of Planned Parenthood. Rick Santorum has gone so far as to condemn the use of all birth control:  “It’s not OK because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen.” If ever it was considered unacceptable for our government to make morally relative judgments about its citizen’s private sexual lives, that understanding is now completely absent. How is it possible to regress so far back, to the point in which half of our political system actively rallies in favor of the oppression of women?

This demonizing of women’s reproductive rights has seeped into local Colorado politics as well. This year, Coloradans are up against yet another personhood amendment. This would grant legal personhood to a developing fetus, thus criminalizing abortion, banning many forms of birth control, and outlawing in vitro fertilization, not to mention turning peripheral areas from health care to criminal law completely inside out. Year after year, Colorado unanimously strikes down these personhood amendments; usually, their only effect is leeching money, time, and resources of organizations that support women’s reproductive health care rights, such as Planned Parenthood, Pro-Choice USA, and our own Boulder Valley Women’s Health.  However, this year things are a little different—the bill has gotten past the Colorado House, and it is now up for consideration by the Senate.

We cannot afford to stand by passively as our government strips away our rights as women. It is time for us to call our representatives, to demand our rights, to wake up and protest.

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