The recent comments by Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) alluding to an unfounded theory that there might be a medical mechanism in women’s bodies that prevents pregnancy in the case of “legitimate” rape—and the subsequent frenzy among Democrats and Republicans alike—is the latest in a series of events trying to undermine women’s right to health care.
Since January 20 of this year, when President Barack Obama announced that under the Affordable Care Act, employers would have to start including no-cost preventive services such as contraception in their health care plans, contraceptive coverage has been in the limelight. Many conservative groups protested the president’s announcement, arguing that this provision violated the right to religious freedom since it didn’t exempt all religiously affiliated institutions that do not approve of contraceptive use. At least nine state legislatures have considered laws or ballot initiatives to undermine contraceptive coverage. These efforts would either reject the federal regulation to cover contraceptives or would work to weaken state regulations for contraception coverage.
Another big push in the fight against women’s health both on the national and state levels has been to defund Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which is our nation’s family planning program, as well as Planned Parenthood. The supporters of ending funding for these entities say that government money should not go toward providing abortions, but that is a misleading argument, and the real effect is far-reaching. In 2011 House and Senate Republicans threatened to shut the government down unless Planned Parenthood didn’t receive any funding from the federal government. In fact, 230 House Republicans and 10 House Democrats voted to defund both Planned Parenthood and Title X. Calling it a deficit issue, they said cutting this funding would lower our national debt.
This battle is now being waged in the states. Texan officials vowed to cut all funding for Planned Parenthood—which offers cancer screenings and other preventive services but not abortions to women in the state’s Women’s Health Program—after the Texas legislature passed a law banning funds to organizations linked to abortion providers. Many other states have considered so-called personhood amendments, which would restrict a woman’s right to get an abortion, as well as ban many forms of birth control and some forms of fertility treatments, by defining life as beginning at the “moment” of conception.
These laws are extremely dangerous to women. They turn back the clock and erase all the progress women have made thus far to allow for healthy pregnancies—or for legal and safe channels for abortions if necessary. Making abortion illegal won’t make it stop happening, but it will force women to use dangerous, illegal, and shady channels to get an abortion instead of visiting a licensed physician who can do the procedure in a safe, sterile environment.
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