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“An Emboldened Anti-Choice Movement”: Republican Family Values Put Women’s Lives In Danger Worldwide

Last week, a committee in the US House of Representatives approved a spending bill that would slash funding for international family planning and reimpose a harmful policy that reduces contraceptive access and tramples on the rights of healthcare providers.

On Monday, the supreme court ruled that some US employers could deny employees access to birth control coverage if they claim a religious objection to contraception.

Is it just me, or do we seem to be in retreat? This latest disregard for women – in the US and overseas – is not unexpected, but it is certainly disappointing. In many ways, we have been fighting the same battle for the past 30 years. But the battle lines have shifted and, frequently, we have to struggle to retain hard-won ground.

When I started working on this issue in the early 80s, there was true, bipartisan support for family planning. Some of the most sincere anti-abortion Republicans realised that the consistent, commonsense public policy position for them to take would be to support overseas family planning funding. Better access to contraception would reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions, especially unsafe abortions.

The global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, was one of the first instances of the domestic anti-choice agenda interfering with the health and lives of women in developing countries. Introduced 30 years ago, during the Reagan administration, the policy bars foreign organisations that receive US family planning assistance from using their own private, non-US government funds to provide information, referrals, or services for legal abortion, or to advocate for the legalisation of abortion in their own countries.

Since it was introduced, the gag rule has been subject to the vagaries of US politics – imposed or kept in place by Republican presidents, and repealed by Democrat leaders. Though it was rescinded by President Obama on taking office in 2009, Republicans in the House have tried every year since to reinstate it.

Their efforts are testament to a rightward shift in US politics, including an emboldened anti-choice movement that has continued to gain political power. The middle has shrunk, the partisan divide has grown, and the Republicans being elected to Congress now are more extreme and bent on undermining women’s health and rights. Under the guise of “protecting the unborn”, the misguided policies they espouse threaten the health and lives of millions of women and families.

The US’s $610m contribution to international family planning and reproductive health in fiscal year 2014 helped 31 million women and couples receive contraceptive services and supplies. It prevented 7 million unintended pregnancies and 3 million abortions (2 million of them unsafe), and saved the lives of 13,000 women. In addition, 60,000 fewer children lost their mothers.

The fact is that family planning saves women’s lives. But in Washington these days, the facts do not matter. Last week Republicans on the House spending committee imposed a completely unnecessary cap on international family planning funding.

The House committee bill proposes cutting international family planning funding by $149m, almost 25% from current levels. Using analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, this would result in more than 7.7 million fewer couples using contraception, more than 1.6 million additional unintended pregnancies, and 745,000 more abortions. Almost 3,000 more women would die in pregnancy or childbirth, and 13,400 more children would lose their mothers. So much for family values.

We have been fortunate in that during the past few years, Republican attacks in the House have been blocked by Senate family planning champions, where, for now at least, Democrats retain control. This has essentially resulted in maintenance of the status quo on family planning policy and on funding. The Senate version of this year’s spending bill counters the House by including $644m for international family planning, and a permanent, legislative repeal of the global gag rule.

But this uneasy stalemate could change, depending on the outcomes in key races in November. If Republicans take control of the Senate, the truce will be broken and battle lines redrawn. The drastic cuts the House committee approved last week could be seriously considered in an omnibus spending bill, and an offensive could be mounted by opponents to attempt to force the gag rule on a pro-choice president.

The health of women around the world is far too important to continue to be thrust on to the frontline of US domestic culture wars.

 

By: Craig Lasher, Director of US Government Relations at Population Action International; The Guardian, July 17, 2014

July 19, 2014 Posted by | Family Values, Republicans, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Catholic Nuns Back Obamacare Contraception Access”: It Isn’t Freedom When Women Are Held Hostage

The National Coalition of American Nuns has announced their support for women’s right to access contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the historic Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases. While the plaintiffs in these cases are Mennonites and evangelical Christians, opposition to the contraceptive mandate was largely spearheaded by the Catholic bishops. Several key cases of Catholic non-profits, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, are making their way through the lower courts and may well end up in the Supreme Court themselves.

“NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives,” said the 2,000-member group in a statement.

“This has gotten out of hand,” Sister Donna Quinn, head of NCAN, told RD. “It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women. Now we have other Christian religions seeing what the bishops are doing and saying we will do likewise. It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”

The nuns are seeking support for their stand through an online petition. The Rev. Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute is helping NCAN coordinate the effort. “When I saw the brave stand these nuns were taking on the mandate, I started to think about what we could do to amplify their voices. So we launched a social media campaign asking people to ‘Stand with the Nuns’,” she said.

“We really need to counter the idea that faith is opposed to family planning,” said Haffner, who’s also helping to coordinate a Faith Rally at the Supreme Court on March 25, the day of the oral arguments for the mandate challenges. “All too often the media only shows a Catholic bishop to offer the faith perspective. More than 14 major religious denominations have statements supporting birth control and birth control access. People need to understand that this is not only an affront to women’s moral agency but opens the door to denying a whole range of services, from other kinds of reproductive health care to services to LGBT people,” she said.

NCAN has a long history of reproductive justice and Catholic reform activism. Quinn has volunteered as an abortion clinic escort and was one of the leaders of a delegation of women religious to Rome 1994 to hold a parallel discussion about the role of women religious during the bishops’ synod on religious life, which largely excluded women.

 

By: Patricia Miller, Religion Dispatches, March 14, 2014

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Birth Control, Contraception, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Women Have Options”: Obamacare, The Greatest Pro-Life Victory Ever

A new report finds that between 2008 and 2011, the abortion rate hit its lowest point since 1973, when Roe v. Wade declared access to the procedure a Constitutional right.

The rate fell 13 percent to 16.9 per 1,000 women in 2011, down from its peak of 29.3 per 1,000 in 1981.

While conservatives want to claim credit for the decline with onerous restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, the availability of contraception and family planning deserve most of the credit, according to the Guttmacher Institute’s Rachel Jones, the lead author of the study.

“The decline in abortions coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates,” she said in a statement. “Contraceptive use improved during this period, as more women and couples were using highly effective, long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, such as the IUD. Moreover, the recent recession led many women and couples to want to avoid or delay pregnancy and childbearing.”

Use of contraceptives has become near-universal and more common among married women than single.

Obamacare’s birth control mandate obligates all insurers to cover contraception without a co-pay, as it does all preventive care. Before the law 28 states already had such mandates in place and 85 percent of large firms offered coverage as part of their plans. Since August 1 of last year, that coverage is now standard for women no matter where they live or how they acquire health insurance.

A Washington University study released last year showed that providing birth control at no cost reduced the rate of abortions by 62 to 78 percent compared to the national rate. Meanwhile the right’s strategy of reducing abortions by requiring sonograms has had no effect on a large majority of women, according to a new study in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Instead of encouraging the pro-life benefits of Obamacare, conservatives continue to try to minimize them. Republicans want to give employers the ability to opt out of the mandate, asserting falsely that some of the birth control options available induce abortion.

By opposing the mandate, the right reveals that its goal has always been to reduce women’s options, not unintended pregnancies. Obamacare will reduce thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of abortions and could reduce even more if the Republican-led states that rejected Medicaid expansion would agree to provide subsidized care to approximately 4 million Americans.

Instead, so-called “pro-lifers” enable politicians who deny health insurance to those who need it most, threatening the lives of thousands. If only they were as pro-life as Obamacare is.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, February 4, 2014

February 5, 2014 Posted by | Abortion, Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Save The Babies Or Save The Budget”: Dear Conservatives, Your Opposition To Family Planning Comes With A Huge Price Tag

Conservatives have long painted themselves as the guardians of fiscal sanity. But they have also fashioned themselves as the guardians of the innocent babies being preyed upon at Planned Parenthood. Even though abortions make up just 3 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides—and many clinics don’t provide them at all because of restrictions placed on the funding they receive—conservatives have long held a legislative grudge against the organization and have even broadened their contempt to other family planning clinics.

That deep-held distaste for women’s health providers led Texas lawmakers last year to slash $73 million from all of its family planning services and shift the money to other areas of the budget. This blunt instrument hit all of the state’s women’s health providers, but was meant to target Planned Parenthood and deny it taxpayer dollars—even though the clinics that received state subsidies for care never performed abortions.

This may be in line with their staunch opposition to what they see as a baby-killer, but that ideology comes with quite the price tag. News has surfaced that for the two-year period between 2014 and 2015, poor women are expected to deliver nearly 24,000 babies that they wouldn’t otherwise have had if they had access to state-subsidized birth control. Those extra births will cost taxpayers as much as $273 million, with between $103 million to $108 million of that hitting the state’s general revenue budget alone. Much of the cost comes from caring for those infants through Medicaid.

Lawmakers may not care about what this means for the lives of the low-income women who are now bearing and raising children whose births they would have otherwise prevented had they had access to contraception. But conservatives, the fiscally responsible party, are now thinking twice about the budgetary implications. The New York Times reported last week that “a bipartisan coalition is considering ways to restore some or all of those family planning dollars, as a cost-saving initiative if nothing else.” It’s not like the budget hit should come as a surprise, however. When the cuts were initially debated, an estimate was circulated that they would lead to an extra 284,000 births at a cost of $239 million. Yet the cuts passed, “a price that socially conservative legislators were willing to pay in their referendum on Planned Parenthood,” as the Times reports.

And unfortunately, the ideological battle against Planned Parenthood will not be brought to a complete cease-fire, even in the face of these stark numbers. Planned Parenthood will almost certainly be excluded from any reinstated family planning funding because of an existing ban against taxpayer money going to providers who are “affiliated” with clinics that perform abortions, even if they don’t do so themselves. While there are other women’s health providers in the state, RH Reality Check’s Andrea Grimes set out to find out whether the hundreds of listings on Texas’s website actually provide the services women need. She found that “many of them don’t provide any kind of contraceptive care, don’t take Medicaid Women’s Health Program clients, or are simply misleading duplicate listings.”

And the ones that do offer the right services likely won’t be able to meet the huge increase in demand. Grimes cites a study that found that Planned Parenthood accounted for half of the state’s women’s healthcare, serving nearly 52,000 clients. The remaining providers mostly serve ten or fewer patients. That’s just not going to cut it for all of the women who now need to find care.

Continuing to deny funding to Planned Parenthood will keep costing the state, even if other clinics see their funding reinstated. To the tune of an estimated $5.5 million to $6.6 million as a result of paying for the entire women’s health program on its own, rather than receiving the 90 percent federal matching funds, as well as paying for a higher number of births that will have to be covered by Medicaid funds.

Texas is a huge state, so its case sticks out like a sore thumb. But it’s not the only one to go after family planning services and Planned Parenthood. As the Guttmacher Institute reports, last year some states felt compelled by the federal push to ban federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood to look at whether providers in their states that use private funding for abortion should be barred from receiving state funding or, in some cases, federal Medicaid reimbursements. Currently, six states prohibit some providers from receiving family planning funds and in three the restrictions apply to those that provide abortion or are affiliated with agencies that do.

So conservative lawmakers across the country will now be faced with a choice: save the babies or save the budget. Because it’s clear that you can’t do both. Organizations that provide contraception—and, it must be said, abortions—not only do great service to the women who need to control their fertility and their lives. They do great service to taxpayers. By giving women access to contraception, publicly funded family planning organizations save us $3.74 for every dollar we spend in avoided Medicaid costs associated with unplanned births. Their services saved federal and state governments $5.1 billion in 2008.

As Texas has just found out, those aren’t imaginary numbers. They are very real. Whoever says that contraception and abortion aren’t economic issues should take a second look. They have a huge impact on women’s financial situations. But, perhaps higher on conservatives’ checklist, they have an enormous impact on the budget.

 

By: Bryce Covert, The Nation, December 10, 2012

 

 

December 11, 2012 Posted by | Women's Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Global Gag Rule”: A Romney-Ryan Administration Would Be A World Of Harm For Women

If Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, were to win next month’s election, the harm to women’s reproductive rights would extend far beyond the borders of the United States.

In this country, they would support the recriminalization of abortion with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and they would limit access to contraception and other services. But they have also promised to promote policies abroad that would affect millions of women in the world’s poorest countries, where lack of access to contraception, prenatal care and competent help at childbirth often results in serious illness and thousands of deaths yearly. And the wreckage would begin on Day 1 of a Romney administration.

Mr. Romney has pledged that, on his first day in the White House, he would reinstate the “global gag rule,” the odious restriction that has been used to deny federal money for family-planning work abroad to any organization that provided information, advice, referrals or services for legal abortion or supported the legalization of abortion, even using its own money.

Merely talking about abortion could cost groups not only federal money, but also useful technical support and American-donated supplies of contraceptives, including condoms for distribution in the communities they serve.

The gag rule, also known as the “Mexico City policy,” was imposed by the last three Republican presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan in 1984. It was rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993, then reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001. President Obama, fulfilling a campaign pledge, signed an executive order lifting the global gag rule shortly after taking office in 2009.

The gag rule did nothing to prevent use of government financing for abortions because that was already illegal under federal law. But it badly hampered the work of family-planning groups overseas, forcing clinic closures, reduced services and fee increases. It also violated principles of informed consent by requiring health care providers to withhold medical information from female patients. And, by stifling political debate on abortion-related issues and violating free speech principles, the gag rule badly undermined America’s credibility as it tries to promote democracy abroad.

Republican opponents of family planning and women’s reproductive autonomy in Congress have been trying to reinstate the gag rule by legislation. If elected, Mr. Romney has said he would do so with a stroke of the pen.

Mr. Romney also vows to renew another of George W. Bush’s shameful policies (which was ended by President Obama), which blocked the United States from contributing to the United Nations Population Fund. That fund supports programs in some 150 countries to improve poor women’s reproductive health, reduce infant mortality, end the sexual trafficking of women and prevent the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Romney has embraced the bogus charge that the Population Fund supports coerced abortions in China, ignoring a State Department investigation that found no evidence for that claim. In fact, the fund has helped promote a voluntary approach to family planning.

The annual federal contribution to the fund is now down to $35 million, compared with $55 million in fiscal years 2010 and 2011; overall support for international family planning and reproductive health programs stands at $610 million — far short of the need. Even so, this amount of money pays for contraceptive services and supplies that reach more than 31 million women and couples, averting 9.4 million unintended pregnancies, 4 million abortions (three-quarters of them unsafe) and 22,000 maternal deaths annually, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

House Republicans want to cut the nation’s investment in international family planning severely. Mr. Romney’s record of bending to suit the most extreme elements of the Republican Party suggests that he may well go along on this critical issue as well.

By: Editorial Board, The New York Times, October 19, 2012

October 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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