By CHRISTINE MARIE
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, women in at least 90 cities around the United States demonstrated in defense of the health provider Planned Parenthood. “Pink Out Day,” the organizers state, provided the opportunity to say: “Listen to over a million Americans who are sick and tired of the relentless attacks on reproductive health care. Listen to the one in five American women who has received care at a Planned Parenthood health center … Tell anti-abortion extremists and politicians that we are everywhere and we will not let them use fraud and deception to shut down the health centers so many women rely on for care. … We’re not backing down, not today, not ever.”
These actions were only one element of the response to an extreme right-wing campaign to deprive one of the most important sources of woman’s health for low-income and young women in the country of the $500 million a year in federal funding that it receives mostly through Medicaid reimbursements and grants. In an electronic version of the tribunals organized by women in the fight for reproductive rights before the U. S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, women are countering the right wing’s attempt to stigmatize abortion on social media. According to the Guardian newspaper, three defenders of reproductive justice—Amelia Bonow, Lindy West, and Kimberly Morrison—started #ShoutYourAbortion on Sept. 18, and tweets quickly climbed into the tens of thousands.
The demonstrations and social media campaigns are in response to the latest outrages in an orchestrated campaign of lies and efforts to defund the health-care provider that took off after undercover videos, edited to make it appear that Planned Parenthood trafficked in fetal tissue, began to be posted to Youtube in July. In response, Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards testified before a Sept. 29 House of Representatives hearing that “the outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood, based on heavily doctored videos, are offensive and categorically untrue.”
On Sept. 18, the House passed two sensationalist bills that furthered a propaganda war on reproductive justice. One bill defunded Planned Parenthood for a year, supposedly in order to allow Congress to investigate the organization’s supposed profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. The other bill was a piece of legislation designed to convince the public that doctors who perform abortions are often the murderers of fetuses who “survive” the procedure.
Both bills were introduced by conservative “moderates” who hoped to assuage right-wing “radicals” determined to link defunding of Planned Parenthood to the big spending bill that would provide government operations funding for the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1 and a potential government shutdown. The Senate defeated the Republican efforts to use the funding extension bill to cut off Planned Parenthood, but both houses continue to look for ways to mollify the right-wing “radicals.”
Even though defunding bills, no matter what the form, are likely to be vetoed by President Obama, a member of the House Republican leadership, Steve Scalise, told The New York Times, “We’re going to keep attacking this (abortion) on many fronts” (Sept. 24, 2015). This includes legislation being introduced in the states. On Sept. 1, the governor of Louisiana ended that state’s contract with Planned Parenthood, ending service for 5200 Medicaid patients. The Wisconsin Assembly voted on Sept. 24 to ban the state from using federal family-planning money from going to Planned Parenthood.
The Republican presidential debates have also been the occasion for a level of virulent and misogynist attacks on female dignity and reproductive justice that have not been heard on mainstream media since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land more than four decades ago. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has never proven itself to be a reliable defender of abortion rights. The willingness of Obama to throw women under the bus during the Affordable Care Act debates was only the last of a string of concessions to reactionary thought that began almost as soon as abortion was legalized.
The most devastating blow to availability of reproductive choice began in 1976 with the passage of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortion. This has meant that one out of four women using this health support funding has been forced to carry an unwanted fetus to term. Versions of the Hyde amendment have been attached to spending bills under both Republican and Democratic majorities and presidents for nearly 40 years.
The current right-wing “radicals’” attack was made possible by the failure of both capitalist parties to accept the Supreme Court’s recognition of the power of the women’s movement, in the streets, during the 1960s and 1970s. This political failure has not only impacted the availability of abortion but the availability of women’s health care in general.
Today, according to a study commissioned by Congress, created by the Guttmacher Foundation and using 2010 statistics, Planned Parenthood serves 36% of the 6.7 million women that get contraceptive care from “safety-net family-planning health centers.” In 11 states, Planned Parenthood serves more than half of the women getting this kind of care. The other “safety-net” providers serve far fewer women, offer a much narrower range of contraceptive methods, less frequently offer oral contraceptives on site, and are less likely to offer same-day appointments.
The organization’s ability to provide nearly same-day service means that for low-income women, Planned Parenthood is often the most easily accessible care for ailments not only of the body but for all kinds of everyday anxieties arising from the effort to organize one’s ability to survive and thrive in capitalist America.
The recent attack on Planned Parenthood is an especially cruel assault on the health of the underemployed and youthful unemployed, as well as a genuine threat to the defense and expansion of reproductive justice in the U.S. The continuous and insufficiently answered misogyny of those who have targeted its funding is part of an ideological offensive designed to whittle away at the support that the majority of Americans have given to abortion rights since the second wave of feminism and to create pockets of the population that could be mobilized for assaults on all the movements for social change and economic justice.
Pink Out Day and #ShoutOutYourAbortion are important first steps in the effort to counter the latest of these efforts. The movement needs to move quickly, however, toward mounting the kind of mobilization that occurred last September when half a million people marched in New York for climate justice. This is how abortion was legalized and contraception de-stigmatized, and this is our strongest weapon for their defense.