I don’t know about you, but I breathed a huge sigh of relief on Saturday morning. The government shutdown was averted, without sacrificing Planned Parenthood! Yay, bullet dodged!
… and then I learned that that bullet was actually headed straight for pregnant, low-income women in the District of Columbia. Because not only did House Speaker John Boehner want to limit government funding for Planned Parenthood and other nonprofits that provide abortion services, he also wanted to restrict funding on abortions in D.C. So a compromise was worked out: D.C. funding was cut, but the funds to nonprofits were safe.
Look, I get that an argument can be made for this outcome. Planned Parenthood and other nonprofits serve a huge number of men and women, and can now continue to do this very necessary work. And to take even more of a “greater good” perspective – if the government actually had shut down last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people would have been affected, and D.C. would have essentially come to a halt. As a proud resident of the District of Columbia, I’m really glad that we’ll continue to have things like trash pick-up and parking enforcement, and that the businesses in my neighborhood that depend on the income of government workers won’t suffer.
But this is just one more example of politicians using women’s health as a bargaining chip, and that is reprehensible. The program in question, which uses the District’s own funds to assist women that need abortions, has long been controversial; Republicans had previously banned such assistance when they controlled Congress. In 2009, a Democrat-controlled Congress revoked the ban, but it wasn’t as if funding started immediately that year. Clinics had to work out contracts with insurance providers – not a quick process – so, according to Tiffany Reed, president of the DC Abortion Fund, it has only been relatively recently that women could even use this assistance.
Given that the money would cover the cost of a procedure in the District – which generally ranges from $300 to $500 – it’s hard to believe that cutting this program will really save that much money. Rather, this is a triumph of ideology over economy, and it is low-income women and families that will suffer for it. As Charlotte Taft of the Abortion Care Network put it, “… once again women are on their own and even women who are the poorest of the poor are on their own for very, very essential and basic health care options.”
For more information on supporting local funds, please visit the National Network of Abortion Funds. If you would like to learn more about the DC Abortion Fund, which assists women in the District, Maryland, and Virginia, their website is here.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.