In recent years we’ve seen aggressive efforts by the GOP and christianist ultra-right to equate Planned Parenthood with abortion, despite the plain fact that Planned Parenthood receives NO federal funding for any abortion, and that abortion constitutes only a tiny fraction of the healthcare services Planned Parenthood provides.
Planned vs. Unplanned Pregnancies
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, nearly half the pregnancies that occur each year in the United States are unintended. As the journal also explains:
“With an unwanted pregnancy especially, the mother is more likely to seek prenatal care after the first trimester or not to obtain care. She is more likely to expose the fetus to harmful substances by smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol. The child of an unwanted conception is at greater risk of weighing less than 2,500 grams at birth, of dying in its first year of life, of being abused, and of not receiving sufficient resources for healthy development. The mother may be at greater risk of physical abuse herself, and her relationship with her partner is at greater risk of dissolution. Both mother and father may suffer economic hardship and fail to achieve their educational and career goals. The health and social risks associated with a mistimed conception are similar to those associated with an unwanted conception, although they are not as great.”
So, just as a start, by preventing access to family planning at all vastly increases fetal risks. When you force an unwilling woman to carry an unwanted child, in many cases this results in the death of the child after birth due to poverty, abuse, hunger, and lack of access to health care.
But for those cost-conscious Republicans out there, family planning also saves the United States a lot of money, according to the same NEJM article:
“Unintended pregnancy imposes potentially serious burdens on individuals and families, as well as considerable economic costs on society. The cost of one Medicaid-covered birth in the United States (including prenatal care, delivery, postpartum care, and infant care for 1 year) was $12,613 in 2008, according to estimates from the Guttmacher Institute. The national per-client cost for contraceptive care the same year was $257. In 2008, an estimated $1.9 billion was spent on publicly funded family-planning care — an investment that resulted in an estimated $7 billion in Medicaid savings for the cost of unplanned births. Public funding of family-planning programs has proven to be a wise investment. Every $1 spent on public funding for family planning saves taxpayers $3.74 in pregnancy-related costs.”
I also want to quote a longish bit from another article from the New England Journal of Medicine,Women and Children Last — The Predictable Effects of Proposed Federal Funding Cuts:
“Women and children last” might as well be the refrain of the current U.S. Congress’s new health care budget cutters.
Yet there are at least two major reasons why proposals to limit or eliminate federal funding for women’s reproductive health services appeal to some politicians. The first is that the primary beneficiaries of those services are low-income women and their children, a group with virtually no political influence — and no financial resources with which to fight these cuts. Second, comprehensive reproductive health care includes pregnancy terminations, and although women have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability, abortion remains the most contentious issue in U.S. politics. Although attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade altogether have been ongoing for almost four decades, current efforts have largely been redirected toward restricting or ending federal funding of abortion and anything that is arguably related to abortion.
On the other hand, provisions that made it into the House budget bill — and are up for negotiation with the Senate — include the total elimination of federal funding for the 4400 Title X clinics (the national family-planning program) that serve only low-income women, providing them with birth control and screening for sexually transmitted diseases, breast and cervical cancer, and HIV; ending all federal funding of Planned Parenthood and its 102 affiliates, which serve 11 million women per year, 82% of whom get contraception services; cutting 10% from the special supplementary nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC), which serves 10 million low-income women and their children each month; and cutting $50 million from block grants supporting prenatal care for 2.5 million low-income women and health care for 31 million children annually.
The amounts of money saved by these cuts would be trivial, but the damage to the health of low-income women and children — especially from the loss of direct federal funding for food and preventive health care — could be devastating. The proposed cuts are simply cruel.
Two years ago, before the current debate over ACA funding, a Guttmacher Institute study concluded that eliminating Title X clinics (and Medicaid funding for contraception counseling) would result in an additional 860,000 unintended pregnancies and 810,000 abortions per year among low-income women.5 The study also found that from a strictly budgetary perspective, helping low-income women prevent pregnancies saved almost $4 for every $1 spent.5 Rational policymakers who oppose abortion and support fiscal restraint should thus also support current federal efforts to reduce unplanned pregnancies.
So why the Assaults on Planned Parenthood?
Recently there have been multiple assaults on Medicaid and Planned Parenthood, the two major sources of access to prenatal and childbirth related healthcare for the poor. But these assaults ALSO result in reduced access to birth control. And, considering the wave of right-wing efforts to enact “personhood laws”, abortion may not even be the point at all, but rather banning effective birth control.
“Personhood” Laws Outlaw the Most Effective Contraception
Considering that Planned Parenthood’s business is only minimally related to abortion, why has it become such a target? It’s because there is a only slightly hidden far-right christianist effort to ban CONTRACEPTION. This is being enacted INTO LAW, RIGHT NOW, disguised as anti-abortion efforts, in places like Iowa and Texas, called “personhood statutes”.
All the personhood statues pretty much use the same text (bold emphasis is mine):
(1) EVERY HUMAN PERSON HAS A RIGHT TO LIFE, WHICH IS THE PARAMOUNT AND MOST FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT GUARANTEED UNDER THE CONSTITUTION AND LAWS OF THIS STATE.
(2) WITH RESPECT TO THE FUNDAMENTAL AND INALIENABLE RIGHT TO LIFE, THE WORD “PERSON” APPLIES TO ALL HUMAN BEINGS, IRRESPECTIVE OF AGE, RACE, GENDER, HEALTH, FUNCTION, CONDITION OF DEPENDENCY, INCLUDING PHYSICAL OR MENTAL DEPENDENCY, OR METHOD OF REPRODUCTION, FROM THE BEGINNING OF THEIR BIOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT, INCLUDING FERTILIZATION.
Rachel Maddow recently did a thorough segment discussing these “personhood” efforts and theMississippi P.R. campaign “Conceived in Rape”.
As a starter, “personhood” laws make all abortion murder, period. It’s an attempted end-run around Roe v. Wade. However, it ALSO outlaws IUDs and hormonal contraception, including birth control pills. Let me explain why.
IUDs Will Be Outlawed by “Personhood” Statutes
An IUD, or “intrauterine device” works in a couple of ways, but regardless whether it’s hormonal or copper, the IUD inside the uterus irritates the lining and wall making it hard for an embryo to implant. If “personhood” begins at the moment of fertilization, oops, IUDs are de facto causing abortion. So, “personhood laws” will outlaw IUDs.
Hormonal Birth Control Will be Outlawed by “Personhood” Statutes
Oral contraceptives employ synthetic hormones that mimic the hormones your body produces naturally to “fool” the female reproductive system, which then inhibits ovulation, and thins the endometrium, which prevents implantation of the egg. The Pill can also alter the pattern of muscle contractions in the tubes and uterus, which may interfere with implantation. In case ovulation does occur, which is rare but can happen, these additional effects also help to prevent pregnancies. So, oops! in the rare event an egg is actually popped out and fertilized, the effects of The Pill that prevent implantation are de factocausing abortion. So, “personhood laws” will outlaw The Pill, and there are some scary extreme christianist broadsides out there that SCREAM that The Pill causes abortions.
“Personhood” and the Mother’s Civil and Human Rights
What supporters of this approach ALSO don’t mention is that if the unborn have legal personhood rights, pregnant women won’t. If successful, this strategy will mean that upon becoming pregnant, women will lose their civil and human rights. We already see the fetus being elevated over the health or intelligent choices of the mother.
How would you feel if, after having delivered several babies normally, doctors decided your current baby is “too big” and went to court to try and strip your right to decide your own medical care? That’s what happened to Amber Marlowe, when Wilkes-Barre General Hospital sued to obtain guardianship of Marlowe’s unborn baby.
How would you feel if, after having one child by emergency C-section, followed by another via vaginal childbirth, your doctor and hospital insisted that you MUST have a caesarian section? Joy Szabo had an emergency C-section in 2004 at Page Hospital in Arizona, then in 2006 had a successful, uncomplicated vaginal delivery at the same hospital. But in 2009, when she was 7 months pregnant, Szabo’s doctor told her Page Hospital had changed its policy and she’d have to have a C-section. The Szabos went to Page Hospital’s CEO, Sandy Haryasz to discuss this policy, and they say Haryasz would not budge, even telling them she would get a court order if necessary to ensure Joy delivered via C-section.
How would you feel if, after having your first child by C-section, you decided to have your second child via vaginal childbirth, but police came and dragged you strapped down to a hospital and forced a C-section on you anyway? Laura Pemberton had one child via C-section, but when she wanted to attempt a vaginal childbirth with her second, she could not find a physician willing to treat her according to her wishes. Pemberton engaged a midwife, but when Tallahassee Memorial Regional Center discovered this, the hospital sued to force her to get a C-section. Pemberton was at home in actual labor, with the midwife, when the sheriff arrived at her home, took her into custody during active labor, strapped her legs together and forced her to go to a hospitalwhere an emergency hearing was taking place to determine the rights of her fetus. She was “allowed” to represent herself. A lawyer was appointed for the fetus. This woman, who vehemently opposes abortion, nevertheless believed in her right to evaluate medical risks and benefits to herself and her unborn child. She was forced to have the unnecessary C-section, and when she later sued for violations of her civil rights, the court held that the rights of the fetus at or near birth outweighed the rights of Pemberton to determine her own medical care.
What about other common issues of pregnant women? If a woman develops an ectopic pregnancy, that represents a fertilized egg that has implanted before it reached the uterus. The fallopian tubes were not designed for anything the size of a baby, and the ectopic pregnancy HAS to be stopped or it will kill the woman. But if “personhood” laws are in place, that’s murder!
Pro-Life? I think not!
I think these stories clearly illustrate that the people who elevate fetal life over the mother’s life cannot reasonably be called “pro-life”. But it’s more than just these few incidents. At the same time as they are attempting to block abortion and contraception, the GOP is busily trying to strip all money away from Medicaid, which pays for prenatal care and childbirth, but also from any type of entitlement program that would ensure that the child has enough to eat, appropriate shelter, and so on.
Let’s take a moment to consider prenatal care.
The infant mortality rate in the U.S. has dropped from 31 deaths/1000 live births in the 1950s to 7 deaths/1000 live births in 2005-2010. The U.S. is #34 in infant mortality now, out of 197 countries, coming in behind pretty much every other country in the west, but also behind Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Macau, Cyprus, Croatia, and Cuba!
The Center for Disease Control has compiled some statistics on the top ten causes of infant mortality in the United States:
The top causes of infant mortality in America are vastly improved by good prenatal care and appropriate facilities and caregivers present when giving birth. We can see this more clearly when we look at older infant mortality data for the U.S.:
Before 1940, infant mortality was startlingly higher: In 1850 it was 217 deaths/1000 live births for whites, 340 deaths/1000 live births for blacks. By 1940, we see 43 deaths/1000 live births for whites, 74 deaths/1000 live births for blacks. Why the decrease after World War 2? The advent of modern medicine and good prenatal care gets the credit.
Contraception, Abortion, and Black Genocide
In the statistics above, take a moment to notice the difference between the mortality of white infants vs. black infants. The difference there is that blacks historically have had much more limited access to prenatal care. The GOP is deliberately cutting poor women off from prenatal care, and yet the right wing claims that Planned Parenthood and pro-choice advocates are knowingly and deliberately attempting to practice genocide on blacks.
An Attempt to Turn Back the Clock… to the 18th Century
Researchers have consistently reported a negative relationship between labor force participation and fertility for women. And this is not recent news.
- Participation in the labor force is associated with increased influence by the wife in family decision-making, particularly with respect to having additional children.
- This increased influence in decision-making is associated with lower fertility among working women.
- The negative relationship between labor-force status and fertility is stronger among wife-dominant and egalitarian families than among husband-dominant couples.
Weller, Robert H. “The Employment of Wives, Dominance, and Fertility”. Journal of Marriage and Family 30:3 (Aug 1968)
This is not at all what the christianist right wants. They want women barefoot, pregnant, and firmly under a man’s control. Even women who are seriously Christian often question the religious interpretation of female submission. But there are people on the christianist right who actively use the Bible to justify spousal abuse. There is a big difference between a consensual BDSM relationship and being beaten into such a relationship via Bible verses.
Among the Puritans who first settled in America, women were domestic creatures and were expected to be Biblically subservient to their husbands. Women had no ownerships rights to property, were not allowed to sue, and were not given jobs outside the home. After the American Revolution, the concept of independence and equal rights brought some changes of the dynamics between men and women, including the concept of a marriage based on love rather than on submission and deference. Women resisted this subjugation early on. Abigail Adams pleaded with her husband to allow women to have opportunities outside of the home:
…in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness.
Alas, Mrs. Adam’s plea seems to have fallen silent upon the deaf ears of the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, the GOP seems to have the idea that if they could kick all the women out of the labor force (because we’re barefoot and pregnant) then voilá! There would be plenty of jobs for men. George W. Bush initiated a program, the Healthy Marriage Initiative. The Heritage Foundation extolls the wonders of marriage as a means of reducing the welfare rolls. The GOP will spend money on trying to ensure one-man-one-woman marriages here, but simultaneously withholds food aid, aid for children, and is trying to strip Medicaid and Title X.
Other legislation designed to put women in our place, under the GOP’s elephantine and masculine feet, are legislative attempts to roll back or block enactment of “fair wage” laws that ensure that women are paid the same as men in equal positions.
During the recent flap in which Republicans banned Democrats from speaking the word “uterus” in the Florida House of Representatives, one commentator suggested “baby garage” as an alternate term.The Guardian noted that “baby garage” is “pretty much how Republicans see women – as a place to park a kid till he’s ready to pop out and go to Sunday School and learn that sex is filthy.” Certainly, the GOP does not value women as part of the workforce, as women are taking the main brunt of recent union busting legislation. Women are invisible to the political process because so many women lack political clout and the vast sums of money needed to buy their own pet legislators.
I’m going to circle this discussion BACK to limiting women’s access to birth control. In the 1970’s when women first had easy access to oral contraceptives, women began to flood colleges and grad schools. They began to enter what had hitherto been considered male professions, such as medicine, law, dentistry and business administration. Women could look to long term employment instead of temporary employment sporadically interrupted by childbirth, so fewer women enrolled in education programs, where before jobs as teachers had allowed them easy in-and-out access to the workforce to accommodate pregnancy. Women have increasingly moved towards getting more education, and becoming financially stable, before committing to marriage. Organizations such as the Girl Scouts have also contributed to young women seeing themselves as leaders. This is what the right cannot abide. They believe that removing access to The Pill will roll all of women’s gains from the last 40 years back–and they may be right.
Pro-Choice is Not Anti-Life
The hypocrisy of those who call themselves “pro-life” in deliberately and systematically attempting to ensure more pregnancies, yet withhold adequate care, privilege the fetus’s health above that of the mother, and treat adult women as incompetents before the law in making decisions concerning our health and bodies — THAT’S ANTI-LIFE!!!