The war on the health of women
Friday 25 February 2011
The War on Women
Republicans in the House of Representatives are mounting an assault on women’s health and freedom that would deny millions of women access to affordable contraception and life-saving cancer screenings and cut nutritional support for millions of newborn babies in struggling families. And this is just the beginning.
The budget bill pushed through the House last Saturday included the defunding of Planned Parenthood and myriad other cuts detrimental to women. It’s not likely to pass unchanged, but the urge to compromise may take a toll on these programs. And once the current skirmishing is over, House Republicans are likely to use any legislative vehicle at hand to continue the attack.
The egregious cuts in the House resolution include the elimination of support for Title X, the federal family planning program for low-income women that provides birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. In the absence of Title X’s preventive care, some women would die. The Guttmacher Institute, a leading authority on reproductive health, says a rise in unintended pregnancies would result in some 400,000 more abortions a year.
An amendment offered by Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, would bar any financing of Planned Parenthood. A recent sting operation by an anti-abortion group uncovered an errant employee, who was promptly fired. That hardly warrants taking aim at an irreplaceable network of clinics, which uses no federal dollars in providing needed abortion care. It serves one in five American women at some point in her lifetime.
The House resolution would slash support for international family planning and reproductive health care. And it would reimpose the odious global "gag" rule, which forbids giving federal money to any group that even talks about abortions. That rule badly hampered family planning groups working abroad to prevent infant and maternal deaths before President Obama lifted it.
(Mr. Obama has tried to act responsibly. He has rescinded President George W. Bush’s wildly overreaching decision to grant new protections to health providers who not only will not perform abortions, but also will not offer emergency contraception to rape victims or fill routine prescriptions for contraceptives.)
In negotiations over the health care bill last year, Democrats agreed to a scheme intended to stop insurance companies from offering plans that cover abortions. Two bills in the Republican House would go even further in denying coverage to the 30 percent or so of women who have an abortion during child-bearing years.
One of the bills, offered by Representative Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, has a provision that would allow hospitals receiving federal funds to refuse to terminate a pregnancy even when necessary to save a woman’s life.
Beyond the familiar terrain of abortion or even contraception, House Republicans would inflict harm on low-income women trying to have children or who are already mothers.
Their continuing resolution would cut by 10 percent the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, which serves 9.6 million low-income women, new mothers, and infants each month, and has been linked in studies to higher birth weight and lower infant mortality.
The G.O.P. bill also slices $50 million from the block grant supporting programs providing prenatal health care to 2.5 million low-income women and health care to 31 million children annually. President Obama’s budget plan for next year calls for a much more modest cut.
These are treacherous times for women’s reproductive rights and access to essential health care. House Republicans mistakenly believe they have a mandate to drastically scale back both even as abortion warfare is accelerating in the states. To stop them, President Obama’s firm leadership will be crucial. So will the rising voices of alarmed Americans.
A version of this editorial appeared in print on February 26, 2011, on page A18 of the New York edition.