On May 5, in another in an ongoing series of attacks against women, the House of Representatives passed “The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (H.R. 3) despite the fact that the Hyde Amendment already prevents funding for abortions. H.R. 3 proposes to deny women comprehensive health insurance and in the process tax small businesses if they continue to provide abortion coverage. It is unlikely to be passed by the Senate.
“Have you lost your mind?” That is a phrase that seems most appropriate these days and one I will remember most from my recent week in Washington D.C. attending a national conference sponsored by the Feminist Majority and The YWCA. It was Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, who was commenting on the lunacy occurring in the nation’s capitol. She was directing her comments to the elected officials proposing the elimination of Title X when she said “Have you lost your mind? Women are not going to give up these rights.”
I went to Washington D.C. along with hundreds of other women to discuss issues affecting women and girls. The Feminist Majority and The YWCA forged a unique partnership: the former a well-known feminist political organization that works domestically and internationally; the latter a nationally known program that focuses on the community needs of women. A largely unknown fact is that YWCAs are among the largest providers of childcare and domestic violence shelters in the country. Their motto is, “eliminating racism and empowering women.”
Simultaneously, the conference attendees became witnesses to a disgraceful drama that was playing out in the halls of Congress at the time. Our federal representatives were dueling with one another in OK Corral fashion over a budget extension that would forever affect the lives of women and girls and shut down the federal government at the same time. At issue was a $39 billion cut, including the elimination of Title X money for family planning. Title X provides funds for preventive health care for women, men, and children who cannot afford it. It also provides prenatal care, cancer screening, testing for AIDS and STDs and mammograms. More than five million women are served by Title X each year. It does not cover abortions. The projected loss for family planning agencies across the country would be $300 million.
Here’s what made no sense. According to the Guttmacher Institute, public health agencies save four dollars for every dollar spent by Title X for family planning. This was a political power play, not a cost-saving effort as the Republicans claimed. It was brinkmanship at its worst, using the budget to fight policy wars on the backs of those most vulnerable in our society.
As a result of this threat, Planned Parenthood and other women’s organizations descended on the capitol on April 7 to lobby their representatives. On Friday night, April 8, close to midnight, the House of Representatives passed the extension of the 2011 budget. Congress agreed to take a separate vote on Title X. In exchange for keeping the federal government open, and despite protests from the Washington city council, the Democrats voted to deny D.C. women the right to use local funds to provide abortions for poor women. They also agreed to cut international family planning money by $73 million.
The Republicans had achieved their grand objective but the projected savings of $39 billion turned out to be a shell game. David Stockman of The Fiscal Times called it a “giant swindle”.
What is going on? Is it a war against women, the poor, and the vulnerable? Or is it really an effort to run a more fiscally prudent federal government as the Republicans claim?
The political strategy of outrageous policy threats to reverse social progress is creating great dissension in our political society. Federal legislators are diverted to keeping the government open and activists are busy putting their collective fingers in the dike to preserve past social and economic gains. At the local and state levels, governments are being forced to slash millions from direct services and let employees go.
There are many legislators who are standing up for women, seniors and children and they deserve our plaudits. But Washington continues to be a place viewed for its dysfunction, not for good government. Are we dealing with our most pressing problems: jobs, education, and healthcare? Not really, and definitely not successfully. The economy is limping, schools are struggling everywhere, and health costs remain high. Our elected representatives are not working together nor are they responsive to the basic needs of Americans. Abortion politics and other attacks on the vulnerable have become the wedge issues used to avoid solving our most pressing social and economic problems.
If our elected representatives want to remain in office, they must start acting like visionary leaders. “Have you lost your mind?” said Clare Coleman. Not yet, but there is no longer any time to waste!