First they came for abortion, but I didn’t care because abortion was for sluts. Then they came for sex ed, but I didn’t care because the kids can learn all they need to know at home. Then they came for birth control, but… Wait a minute! Birth control? They’re coming for birth control? I need that! For nearly a decade prochoicers have been warning that abortion foes were gearing up to go after contraception, but the possibility of losing birth control was too far-out for most people to take seriously. And you know prochoicers—they’re always crying wolf. Well, wake up, sleepyheads, it’s happening.
After the Senate rejected a House attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, Republican Representative Cliff Stearns, chair of the energy and commerce subcommittee, demanded that PP turn over reams of documents going back twenty years. The official purpose was to see if PP’s abortion services, which cannot receive federal funds, are sufficiently segregated from its contraceptive and other health services, which do receive federal dollars. Since Republicans believe this separation is impossible—money is fungible, and all that, except when it goes to a church for supposedly nonsectarian social services—who knows what Stearns and Co. will decide counts as evidence?
Meanwhile, House Republicans continue their attempts to ban federal support for PP, this time through a draft bill on agency funding that would also completely defund Title X, the government’s main family-planning program. Title X, which provides family planning services to more than 5 million mostly low-income people each year, has nothing to do with abortion, which kind of proves that the “fungibility” issue is just a fig leaf. (Bill supporter and Tea Party Caucus member Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican who opposes raising taxes on the wealthy—did I mention that he’s the twenty-fourth-richest member of Congress?—claims that zeroing out birth control funds for poor women is necessary to lower the deficit. Because what could be cheaper than babies?)
As is so often the case in the war on abortion, the most damaging action is in the states. GOP-led governments have voted to cut or eliminate PP funding in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin, Texas and New Jersey. Yes, New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie, hero of Republicans who also happen to be sane, eliminated the state’s $7.5 million budget for family planning. And yes, Texas, where Governor Rick “N-wordhead” Perry slashed family planning funds from $111.5 million to $37.9 million. Meanwhile, since you can always find money for the things you really want, he boosted aid to antichoice crisis pregnancy centers to $8.3 million.
Federal judges have forced North Carolina, Kansas and Indiana to drop their plans, and the federal government is picking up the tab in New Hampshire. Poor women in New Jersey, Wisconsin and Texas are out of luck. You can see which way the tides are running. Note the geographic diversity: defunding contraception isn’t just a Bible Belt specialty anymore.
Speaking of the Bible Belt, Mississippians will be voting next month on Ballot Initiative #26, which would amend the state Constitution by redefining “person” to “include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof.” If passed, the amendment would ban all abortion, possibly even to save the woman’s life. It could also ban in vitro fertilization and the most popular and effective methods of birth control: some forms of the Pill and the IUD, as well as the morning-after pill. Never mind that as many as half of all fertilized eggs never implant in the womb (implantation is the actual medical definition of pregnancy, although you’d never know it these days). Hold on, blastocysts! In a few short weeks, you may be Mississippians, bona fide citizens of the state with the highest rate of unplanned pregnancy in the country. Whether from conviction or fear or a little bit of both, plenty of state Democratic politicians support #26 .
Would #26 really ban the Pill? Personhood USA president Keith Mason is cagey: “Certainly women, my wife included, would want to know if the pills they’re taking would kill a unique human individual,” he told NPR. Of course, there’s nothing to prevent women, his wife included, from switching to diaphragms or prayer if they suspect their contraception makes their wombs inhospitable to four-celled Mississippians. You don’t need a law to let Jesus pick your birth control. But letting women decide? That would be so… prochoice.
Coloradans rejected personhood amendments in 2008 and 2010, but Mississippi could be the charm. Either way, Personhood USA says it plans to have similar amendments on the ballot in half the states by 2012. So add that to the Catholic Bishops’ ongoing fight against the decision to have the Affordable Care Act provide contraception with no co-pays—it’s not enough that religious organizations can deny this lifesaving boon to their employees; the bishops want all women to be deprived. And don’t forget threats to require parental consent for teens to get birth control or treatment for STDs. Such a measure was proposed in Arizona in 2010 and in Maine in the spring—both failed. But that legislators are even entertaining the thought is cause for alarm.
Back on Earth, unplanned pregnancies have risen from 47 to 49 percent of all pregnancies. Apparently the anticontraception crowd won’t be happy until it’s 100 percent.
* * *
I’m writing a book about abortion, and I’d love to include readers’ stories. Did you have an abortion? Did you want one but couldn’t get one because of money, laws or other reasons? What happened then? I’d also like to hear from men and women who helped someone find an abortion. Whether your abortion was fifty years ago or last week, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line Abortion Story, and tell me all about it.