Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What’s Love Got To Do With it? Attacks on Reproductive Justice


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via The Crunk Feminist Collective by eeshap on 2/23/11

Everything. Love has everything to do with it. I'll explain. This month we've been talking about love in many of its forms here at the CFC. Unfortunately in another corner of our world, though unfortunately one in which we all still live and try our best to love, there is an ongoing attack on women, our families and our most treasured communities.

I'm sure that many of you have heard about the various bills being introduced in Washington and around the country that target women's access to health care. Access to comprehensive reproductive health care.  Access to abortion.

I've been working as a reproductive justice advocate for about 8 years now, and this is about as bad as I've ever seen the climate on reproductive justice. In big picture terms, this appears to be a 3-pronged attack against reproductive justice[1]: 1) national legislation 2) state legislation 3) the culture war messaging. Here's the breakdown:

1) Congress: As we saw when the House of Representatives, newly under Republican control, decided that their first move was to try and repeal the health reform law passed last year, it's clear that their aim is to undo one of the Obama Administration's crown achievements – national health care reform. These folks will do anything to tarnish that legacy and are more than willing to use reproductive rights as a distraction and wedge issue. There have been a few high-profile national bills trying to limit reproductive rights. They are:

  • The Pitts Bill (HR 358): would allow doctors and hospitals to refuse to perform any abortion, even one that was needed to save the life of a pregnant woman. Under current law, a pregnant woman with a life-threatening condition cannot be turned away by a hospital, even if her condition requires a doctor to abort her child. The Pitts bill would allow a doctor to not only deny an abortion to a dying pregnant woman but to also refuse to transfer that woman to a place where she might be able to receive an abortion. In fact, the hospital would not be required to do anything at all. More here. Also, here's a video of some real stories that shows what happens when you deny women access to abortion even if there health is at risk.[2]
  • Smith Bill (HR 3): would impose a permanent, blanket prohibition on any and all federal spending for abortion care. The most far-reaching federal funding ban in years, this bill would prevent abortion coverage in the insurance exchanges that will be created through health reform. It is an explicit attack on poor women's access to abortion, because lets remember who exactly gets federal funding for their health care? They are low-income women on Medicaid, women who get their healthcare through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, through the Indian Health Services or through the military. I was on GritTV recently, feeling enraged and talking about how HR 3 is race and class based attack. See below. Also here's a great breakdown on all the horrible things this bill does.

  • Pence Amendment (to HR 1): Eliminate all federal funding to Planned Parenthood clinics around the country. Planned Parenthood operates 820 health centers around the country and provides sexual and reproductive health care, education, and information to over 5 million women, men, and adolescents each year. Now I know all about PP's checkered history, but let's be real: defunding PP and Title X clinics won't save the government any money or create any new jobs it will only take vital health services—like birth control, cancer screening and HIV tests—away from women and families who need them. A couple of fabulously crunk Congresswomen spoke from personal experience on just this issue.

2) The States: There are so damn many of these bills all over the country that all I can do is offer a sampling. I hope you're sitting down.

  • In Pennsylvania Senator Don White (R- 11) introduced Senate Bill 3 which would ban abortion coverage in the state health insurance exchange. Currently, more than 80% of insurance plans cover abortion services – a bill of this magnitude would cause many women to lose coverage. (Bills like this one have been introduced in more than 20 other states).
  • In Georgia, State Rep. Bobby Franklin of Georgia introduced a bill in his state last week that, if enacted, would require proof that a miscarriage occurred naturally. If a woman can't prove that her miscarriage–or spontaneous abortion–occurred without intervention, she could face felony charges.
  • In South Dakota, state Rep. Phil Jensen, has introduced a bill to change the state's legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person "while resisting an attempt to harm" that person's unborn child or the unborn child of that person's spouse, partner, parent, or child. (This bill is shelved for now, but can potentially resurface in the next few weeks.

I'll stop, I think you get the gist of how awful and far reaching some of these state bills are.

3) The culture war AKA an attack on poor women and women of color:

It seems here, after all this, that this is not about health care or the budget or jobs: it's about targeting poor women who rely on the government to help them access health care. This morning NYC woke up to a billboard in Soho claiming "the most dangerous place for an African American child is in the womb." These billboards are popping up all over the country and are particularly vile given that the disparity in abortion rates mirrors all other health care disparities in the black community from heart disease to infant mortality and diabetes. See here for a full statement about these billboards from The SisterSong Collective and Trust Black Women.

There has also been an uptick in intimidating abortion care providers, and instilling fear in their hearts and minds so that they might stop providing critical health care to women. Click here to watch a great segment on the Rachel Maddow Show.

And I'll end by quoting a brilliant article by Leila Husseini and Anu Kumar, who discuss the effect of singling out abortion separate from health care and targeting those that seek to provide it:

"Let's not be coy about this stigma; since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, anti-abortion advocates like Alvaré and Johnson have been working to eliminate abortion in the United States by shaming women and doctors and nurses and their families. Women walking into clinics are taunted. Providers of abortion care are stalked, threatened and assassinated…We know that stigmatizing abortion is inherently harmful to women's health — preventing them from getting the care they need. When abortion is inaccessible either legally, financially or physically, women are more likely to turn to the back alley."

This is about our health, our families, our safety, our communities and yes, about our ability to love. So perhaps it's fitting after all that I post this in the month that the CFC is talking about love.

[1] Many of you might be wondering what the difference is between "reproductive health" "reproductive rights" and "reproductive justice." These aren't interchangeable and I highly recommend this brilliant explanation of why certain terms are relevant at certain times but not others.

[2] Full disclosure: I work for Raising Women's Voices and helped gather these stories.


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