House Republicans Jeopardize Women’s Health Care

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Last Friday (Feb. 18)  House Republicans voted 240-185 to ban federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

I find this incomprehensible. Planned Parenthood is a respectable, indispensable source of health care for low and middle income women that has been around for 95 years. For some women it is their first, and sometimes only, contact with gynecological health care. Since we still don’t have universal health care in this country, that’s not likely to change any time soon.

Planned Parenthood is not an abortion mill. Only 3% of its services have to do with abortion counseling and procedures. That means that most women who walk into a Planned Parenthood facility do so for birth control, breast exams and Pap smears, and testing for STDs.  [Planned Parenthood’s 2008-2009 annual report states: “For the three million patients our doctors and nurses saw, we provided contraception (36 percent of our total services), testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (31 percent), cancer screening and prevention (17 percent), and abortion services (three percent).”]

Estimated savings from this proposed bill are $347,000. That’s peanuts in a $3.6 trillion dollar federal budget, but one-third of the yearly income for Planned Parenthood. Where is that money going to come from if the federal government withdraws its support? But if the fact that Planned Parenthood offers abortion services at all bothers some people, then why not cut the amount being given to Planned Parenthood by the amount of its income that comes from abortions: 3%?  Why take away all federal support of an institution that provides essential health care for over 3 million women a year.?

Ironically, those who argue for limited government intervention are more than willing to put the government in charge of what women can do with their bodies. Government should never be about restricting choices, but about freedom.

Some argue that the private sector will have to pick up the cost of abortions. What that means is that all women should have to pay for their abortions completely out of pocket unless they’re victim of rape or incest or their health is compromised by a pregnancy. Because more and more health insurance plans are refusing to pay for elective abortions, and some won’t pay for abortions under any circumstances. In some instances, women are being forced to buy additional riders for abortion coverage. That’s ludicrous. Women don’t plan to have abortions any more than they plan to get cancer.

If these lawmakers were really concerned about cutting the budget, they should be for, not against, abortions. For example, one of my daughters recently had a D&C after a miscarriage. It cost $4600. If she had had an abortion when her baby’s abnormalities were first diagnosed, it would have cost approximately $350-950 at Planned Parenthood. [Source here.] If she had not had a miscarriage or an abortion, but her baby had been born with severe complications, it would have cost a great deal more.

Conservatives like to cite the irresponsibility of single mothers and “welfare queens” as one reason why our federal budget is so high. And yet they are willing to severely cripple the effectiveness of one organization that helps women to be more responsible about when or whether they will have children. Shame on the House Republicans and anyone else who votes for this proposal.

Read Rebecca Traister’s excellent article about this issue here.

Protecting the Rapist

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Representative Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta, GA) apparently has a soft spot for rapists. He doesn’t want them to be traumatized any more than is necessary when they’ve been accused of rape. He’s introduced a bill that would change the language of state criminal codes so that those who file charges for rape, stalking, and domestic violence will be called accusers, not victims, until there has been a conviction.

For some reason it’s still okay to say that people who have been burglarized, assaulted (other than sexually) or defrauded are victims as soon as they (or the police) file charges. But Carolyn Fiddler, communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, points out that ” … if you have the misfortune to suffer a rape, or if you are beaten by a domestic partner, or if you are stalked, Rep. Franklin doesn’t think you have been victimized.”

Either that, or he thinks you’re lying.

Why is it that some men are so insensitive about the suffering of rape victims? And so protective of the men who have been accused of rape? They wouldn’t protect someone who stole their car or their wallet. But when it comes to a sexually-motivated conflict between men and women, they’re awfully quick to blame or discount the woman. Because we all know that the man can’t be at fault; the woman is the one who brought the action upon herself. 

A woman who accuses a man of sexual violence is basically saying that men don’t have the right to do anything they want to women. And men don’t like being told that. There are still plenty of patriarchal Neanderthals out there who think they have been ordained by God to keep women in their place, by whatever means necessary.

They also think that women should be punished, for being too sexual (slutty), independent (uppity) or disrespectful (bitch). So if a woman dares to stand up for herself and accuses a man of sexually assaulting or abusing her, Representative Franklin wants the law to warn her that she better have an airtight case—enough for a conviction—or no one is going to believe her.

The law enforcement system is reluctant to prosecute cases of violence against women because it’s a woman’s word against a man’s. Also, it’s harder to prove rape than it is the theft of a car, for example. The reason why there was so much outrage over the wording in H.R. 3 was because the bill’s originators were basically saying that rape is not punishable unless it’s clear that it was “forcible.” Unless there’s undeniable proof that a woman was raped (by bruising or tearing, etc.), she is simply not going to be believed when she says she was raped. If the wording had gone through as planned, it would have been the same as saying that it’s the federal government that doesn’t believe her.

Why wasn’t I surprised that it was a man who introduced this bill (Rep. Chris Smith [R-NJ], who is also the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus Co-Chair), and that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) supported him? Thank God they had enough sense to back down when they saw how pissed off people were about the wording.

[To clarify: HR 3, which purports to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions and ensure that the healthcare reform law does not cover the cost of abortions, had provided for an exception only when the woman’s life is endangered, in cases of “forcible” rape, or in cases of incest if the woman was a minor. The exemption in the bill will now cover all forms of rape.]

Media Resources: CNN 2/7/11; Huffington Post 2/8/11; Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Website 2/8/11; Feminist Daily Newswire 2/4/11; RH Reality Check 2/4/11.

A True Story About Loss and Making Hard Decisions

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It’s one thing to debate the fine points of feminism, such as the insistence on protecting a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. It’s quite another thing to have a real-life situation come up which tests your convictions.

I found this out over the last few weeks, starting with my daughter’s phone call telling me the results of her ultrasound.

The news wasn’t good.

She ended up having a second ultrasound and then a more invasive test (CVS) where cells are taken from the placenta to be examined for some forms of birth anomalies.

The results: her baby—a girl—had Down syndrome and Turner syndrome.

Now, Down syndrome alone is not a death sentence, although the defects associated with it can be life-threatening. And there are cases of girls with Turner Syndrome functioning just fine (except for infertility). But if the chromosomal mutations are severe enough, the baby will not survive and that is exactly what my daughter was told by the doctors.

Sure enough, around the 11th week of pregnancy, the baby died and my daughter had to have a procedure to remove the baby’s remains (including the placenta) from her uterus.

But in the weeks between the initial diagnosis of a birth defect and the actual miscarriage, my daughter and her partner were haunted by the question of whether or not to go ahead and terminate the pregnancy.

I am pro-choice. I adamantly reject the idea that a woman should be forced to have a baby under any circumstances. As it is right now, most states only allow abortions in the case of rape, incest or threat to the mother’s health. I would hate to think that any woman would be denied the right to terminate a pregnancy that was going to kill her, or where she would be having the child of her rapist, forever tying her to the man who raped her, or where her child would also be her half-sister or -brother, for instance.

But I am also pro-life. I firmly believe that all life is sacred. However, I also happen to be against capital punishment and war, when, strangely enough, many pro-lifers are not. I also fail to see where the life of the mother is not as important as the life of her baby, maybe even more so if she has other children who need her.

And yet, there is a part of me that believes that sometimes a person has to make a hard decision, one that would normally be left to God, and that is to terminate a pregnancy when the results are going to be traumatic.

One thing that makes me crazy about people who are anti-abortion is their refusal to admit that some babies are not wanted, not loved and not cared for. What good does it do to force a woman to have a severely handicapped child when she doesn’t have the resources necessary for her to care for the child properly? Is someone going to step in and take over the responsibility? Not likely. (And those resources can be physical, psychological, mental, social, educational or economic.)

What if a woman with Down Syndrome gets pregnant? Are we supposed to force her to have a baby she can’t raise by herself (if at all)? And what about a woman who already has other children whose lives would be negatively impacted by the arrival of a severely handicapped brother or sister? (In other words, why would the fetus’ rights take precedence over children’s who are already born?)

The thing is, there are not clear-cut answers for these questions. Every woman’s situation is different and she has the right to decide how much she can handle. And, most importantly, she should not be made to feel guilty if she chooses the alternative that people who don’t even know her think she should.

My daughter was spared from having to decide whether or not to have an abortion because the baby died naturally. But if she had decided to have an abortion, she would have been branded by some people as a “baby-killer.” People who are anti-abortion say no matter what the problem, the baby should be carried as long as possible, even if it dies in utero or at birth. Anything less and you’ve committed murder.

I say that’s nonsense. And it’s cruel.

Continue reading A True Story About Loss and Making Hard Decisions

Wear Red For Women’s Health

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February 4th is National Wear Red Day.  (It’s always the first Friday in February). The whole point of Wear Red Day is to raise awareness of heart disease in women.

People tend to think that men are the ones who are most at risk for heart attacks. But the fact is,  heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.  (1 in 30 women die of breast cancer.)

1 in 3 women die of heart disease each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute.

More women die of cardiovascular disease than the next four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.

Despite these statistics, only 1 in 5 women believe that heart disease is their greatest health threat.

View the 2011 National Wear Red Day® Knowledge Kit here. Educate yourself. Educate others.