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The War on Women’s Health

Huffington Post, 3/8/11

By Deborah Burger, RN
Co-President, National Nurses United

The far right and their representatives in Congress and many state houses sure have a unique way of celebrating the centennial anniversary of International Women's Day.

News that the Texas House of Representatives last week approved a bill, already passed by the state Senate, to force women seeking an abortion to first get an ultrasound test is one of a number of attacks on women's health in the works.

Nationally, the U.S. Senate is likely to act this week on a decision by the House last month to bar Planned Parenthood health centers from receiving any federal funding. That would deeply cut into the broad array of health services provided by Planned Parenthood including not just abortion, but also birth control, cancer screenings, HIV and STD testing, and more.

All this week, Planned Parenthood is holding events in multiple cities to encourage people to lobby their Senators to stop this unwarranted and dangerous assault.

The budget cutting attack doesn't stop there. Republicans also want to slash $1 billion from Head Start, which, as Melissa Harris-Perry writes in The Nation, threatens to bar 157,000 children from pre-school, a handy way to keep many women in the home, rather than the work force, which many social conservatives would apparently prefer.

Presumably that would suit some of those on the right just fine. Looking at some of the bills offered or advancing in many states it is hard to draw other conclusions.

The Texas bill, for example, hardly has any medical purpose. Scans would be dictated not for health reasons, but political ones. Any test, it should be recalled, can be painful and is subject to potential complications. Also, who bears the costs of the additional tests required? The state who mandates it or the patients?

There's the now infamous Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin. While most of the national attention has understandably been on his campaigns to end union rights for public workers (the majority of them, by the way, women) and to eviscerate public education, is also proposing a big attack on women's health.

Walker's budget would repeal a state law mandating insurance companies provide prescription birth control coverage. That goal has been pushed for years in Wisconsin by anti-abortion groups, but where's the logic? If you bar prescription birth control, won't there just be more unwanted pregnancies and even more incentive for women to seek abortions? And what about women who should not get pregnant, like diabetics and epileptics, and cancer patients on certain medications?

It hardly makes sense for avowed budget-cutters either. Unwanted pregnancies, whether they lead to abortion or children with health and other needs have huge economic consequences. The purpose of such initiatives are social and ideological, not budgetary.

Or take South Dakota, where rightwing legislators proposed a bill justifying homicide in the event of "imminent threat" to a fetus, a bill widely considered encouraging the murder of doctors who provide abortions, and other health care professionals who participate in the counseling and the procedures.

There's Ohio where opponents of reproductive choice wanted to have a fetus "testify" on behalf of a "heartbeat bill," that would bar women from ending pregnancies after a heartbeat is detected.

That bill threatened to set off a costly legal fight in a state which, like Wisconsin, that has multiple other attacks on working people and families. "Our state is facing crushing budget deficits and talking about slashing Medicaid funding for thousands of Ohio women, yet these politicians are focusing on an extreme and unconstitutional bill that, if passed, would entangle our state in a costly legal battle," said Kelly Copeland, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

And there's New Jersey where Gov. Chris Christie, darling of the national media talk shows, seeks major cuts in women's health services.

But the award for the most extreme may have to go to Georgia where state Rep. Bobby Franklin who wants to criminalize not just abortions but even miscarriages, potentially punishable by death. As Jen Phillips wrote <http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/02/miscarriage-death-penalty-georgia>  in Mother Jones, "basically, it's everything a 'pro-life' activist could want aside from making all women who've had abortions wear big red 'A's' on their chests."

This is the same Franklin who last year pushed legislation that would redefine rape victims as "accusers," in an apparent attempt to generate sympathy for rapists.

Harris-Perry notes that reproductive services have in the past century provided tens of millions of women far more choices and control in their lives, and helped encourage educational and professional opportunities for women. She writes:

"Women who can't control their fertility will be unable to compete for degrees or jobs with their male counterparts. Likewise, without affordable childcare women would be less likely to work outside the home. And without basic rights to organize, women teachers, nurses and other public sector workers would be compelled to accept lower wages and harsher working conditions, shoving many women out of the workforce altogether. In the Republicans' future America, women will be encouraged to marry younger, to stay in difficult (even abusive) marriages and to rely on male wages."

She calls the current rightwing crusade a war not just on women's health, but also on women's futures.

That's a message for all of us to take seriously on this year's International Women's Day.

Follow Deborah Burger on Twitter.

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