The Increasingly Disturbing War Against Women’s Rights
When Foster Friess, the billionaire backer of Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign, suggested yesterday that women should simply place aspirin between their legs rather than use contraception, it was the latest salvo of a culture war that has been raging for months. “Culture war,” in fact, increasingly seems too vague a term for the current conversation in the country about women’s rights. That conversation is acquiring an increasingly retrograde tone, one that should cause liberals to be alarmed.
It’s hard to pinpoint where the current upsurge in dismissive rhetoric about women’s rights began. Anti-abortion sentiment has long been a staple of right-wing politics, of course. But recently, conservatives have seemed particularly fixated on Planned Parenthood. Last February, congressional Republicans sought to eliminate funding for Title X, a federal grant program that provides HIV testing, contraception, and cancer screenings (through pap smears and breast exams). Title X, Republicans claimed, was funding abortions at Planned Parenthood, which Senator Jon Kyl said did little else.
Kyl had his facts badly wrong, it turned out. Abortion represents only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services, and the organization is legally prohibited from using Title X funds to cover abortion-related expenses. This didn’t seem to bother Kyl. The Senator’s comment about Planned Parenthood’s activities “was not intended to be a factual statement,” said his spokesman. Another fact that apparently didn’t trouble him: Title X has funded the early detection, over a 20 year period, of at least 55,000 cases of cervical cancer, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Obama preserved Title X during the budget showdown, but the administration’s attitude toward abortion and contraception has been muddled. In December, the Health and Human Services secretary overturned the Food and Drug Administration’s ruling making Plan B, commonly known as “the morning-after pill,” available to all women over the counter. A seventeen-year-old girl can get the morning-after pill without a prescription; a sixteen-year-old cannot.
Last summer, a group called the Susan B. Anthony List issued a pledge to GOP candidates, essentially asking them to make it much harder for women to obtain abortions in America; all the candidates but Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, and Mitt Romney signed it. In 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 1,100 abortion-restriction measures were introduced by lawmakers at the state level; 135 passed. Most recently, during the past few weeks, the Susan B. Komen Foundation attempted to end its $600,000 annual contribution to Planned Parenthood (though Komen backtracked after a public fight), and President Obama touched off a firestorm by proposing that all organizations, including religious institutions, be required to offer employees health care plans that cover contraception.