Sisterhood Blog

The Looming Government Shutdown, and the War on Women's Health

By Sarah Seltzer

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If the government shuts down today, we’ll have come to a new zenith of institutionalized misogyny in American government — a level of disregard for women that is so powerful it might bring that government to a halt. Even if it doesn’t and a deal is reached, the fact that women’s health was the last thing standing in the way of an agreement for over 24 hours is both alarming and telling.

As I and others have been noting during the past two days, the negotiations to settle on a budget and a avoid a catastrophic government shutdown (which still could happen in the next few hours) almost entirely boiled down to the issue of Planned Parenthood funding.

While many had predicted that the House GOP’s drive to strip the institution of its family-planning federal funding under Title X — the Hyde Amendment currently prevents it from receiving abortion funding — would be easily killed in the Senate, they underestimated, in my opinion, the sheer level of hatred for women’s bodily autonomy by some members of the D.C. legislative corps.

And so this became the major sword of Damocles threatening to shut the government down. It was not the budget, as both sides essentially agreed on that days before the deadline — leaving the GOP with more cuts, monetarily-speaking, than they initially requested when negotiations began. No, this “rider” on Planned Parenthood funding remained the chip on the negotiating table, even after voices like the hardly-centrist Michele Bachmann’s suggested stripping such ridersfor a “clean bill.”

It’s crucial for allies on women’s health issues to remember, whatever happens today, that if the conversation turns to the shutdown this weekend over dinner with family and friends, the following points can’t be stressed enough:

•That this was no about “the budget,” since a number had essentially been agreed upon before the deadline.

•That this is not about “abortion,” since federal funding for abortion has already been prohibited, by the Hyde Amendment, and under the health care reform bill.

•That leaves us with the truth: it was about condoms and birth control and women’s health.

As Jodi Jacobson noted so eloquently yesterday, the mistake of saying the phrase “abortion funding” when you actually are referring to funding for mostly poor women’s preventive health care and family planning, a mistake being made repeatedly by the mainstream media, is a very dangerous bait-and-switch. Jacobson wrote:

Why is getting this right so important? By parroting the talking points of the extreme right wing, major media outlets are reinforcing a series of lies about care provided to poor and low-income women in this country and in doing so, escalating the war on women’s health.

Whatever happens with these negotiations, the course they have taken proves that this war is far from over.


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