by Maggie Mahar (The author of Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much (Harper/Collins 2006), Mahar also served as the co-writer of the documentary, Money-Driven Medicine (2009), directed by Andrew Fredericks and produced by Alex Gibney.
Before she began writing about health care, Mahar was a financial journalist and wrote for Barron’s, Time Inc., The New York Times and other publications. (Her first book, Bull: A History of the Boom and Bust 1982-2003 (Harper Collins, 2003) was recommended by Warren Buffet in Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report.)
As the Republicans Take Tampa, Consider What a GOP Victory Would Mean for Women’s Health
For decades, Republicans have opposed abortion. This, we know, and so it comes as no surprise that Mitt Romney, the Party’s presidential candidate, has called “Roe vs. Wade“ one of the darkest moments in Supreme Court history.”
But what some call the “war against women” is escalating. This year, the Republican platform calls for a constitutional amendment that would make abortion illegal.
In 1976, the GOP blueprint acknowledged that “the question of abortion is one of the most difficult and controversial of our time,” and the Party called for “a continuance of the public dialogue on abortion,” which it called a “moral and personal issue.” Just eight years ago, the preamble to the Republican platform declared: “we respect and accept that members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing views.” But today, there is no such language in a platform that calls for “a human life amendment to the Constitution,” and declares that “abortion is detrimental to women’s health and well-being.”
Meanwhile Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Ohio all have passed legislation outlawing abortion after 20 weeks, even though, as the Center for American Progress’ Emillie Openchowski points out “complications are sometimes discovered after this point in a pregnancy that could cause serious harm to the woman. In those states, a woman would be forced to continue the pregnancy, no matter the risk to her health.” This is frightening.
While Republicans parade women across their Tampa stage– and avoid talking about what they have quietly embedded in the Party platform–it seems a good time to consider what a Republican victory would mean for women’s health.
Turning Back the Clock: Contraception
Susan Faludi’s Pulitzer-prize winning 1991 book, Backlash, is subtitled: “The Undeclared War Against American Women.” Twenty-one years later, it seems the war is out in the open . As a recent New York Times editorial observes: “Having won on abortion, social conservatives are turning to birth control.”
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) promises women access to contraception without co-pays, an idea which enjoys widespread popular support–at least among women. Nationwide 80% of women voters support the idea, according to a June survey by Hart Research Associates. An earlier Hart poll revealed that 77% of Catholic women and 72% Republican women approved of free birth control. By contrast, just sixty percent of all men embrace the proposal. Still, that’s a majority.
Who, then, actually opposes making birth control available to all women, regardless of income?
The extreme conservatives who now run the Republican Party have made their feelings clear. In February, House Speaker John Boehner, stood on the House floor, and promised to overturn any rule requiring employers to pay for birth control for their workers:
“It must not stand and it will not stand,” delcared Boehner, who believes that bosses who object to birth control should not be forced to cover contraception. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, along with Senators Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Marco Rubio;, R-Fla.; and John Thune,quickly joined in, arguing that this provision is a threat to religious freedom.
The right-wingers who now control the GOP seem to view contraception as a “women’s issue” that should be decided by men. Thus, at a House Oversight Committee hearing, House Republicans convened a panel on denying access to birth control coverage with five men– and no women.
As for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in a Fox interview just last Sunday, he said: “of course women have a right to use contraception”– if they can afford it.
In March Romney told a Town Hall meeting that if “a woman wants access to free birth control” she “should vote for the other guy,” adding, “there are a lot of things that we have in our society that we may like,” but that government should not be paying for.” This suggests that “the Pill” is a luxury, like a $75 blouse.
Romney also has endorsed the “Blunt amendment” that would let any employer drop health insurance coverage for contraception and other health services on religious or moral grounds.
Here we are not just talking about Catholic colleges and hospitals. President Obama is making special provisions to accommodate their concerns. But the Republican “Blunt amendment” would go further, to include private companies such as Hercules Industries, a Denver-based heating and air conditioning company.
Co-owner Andy Newland objects to birth control, and in July, the company obtained an injunction from a federal court, allowing it to delay complying with the law until three months after the case is decided.
The Cost of Contraception
According to Fox News’ Greg Gutfield, “Anybody can afford birth control.” In July, he asked his audience, “How much more affordable can you make it? . . I mean, do we–should we start up like a ‘buy the pill’ campaign? Like ‘feed the children’ where we make sure we all adopt one woman and pay for her pills?”
Gutfield is, of course, wrong about the cost. In recent years, birth control has become extremely expensive for low-income women, even if they are insured. Co-payments for pills typically range between $15 and $50 per month, and for other contraceptive devices, such as IUDs, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses can reach into the hundreds of dollars.
“Since the average American woman wants to have two children,” Planned Parenthood points out, “she‘ll spend approximately five years pregnant, postpartum, or trying to have children, but 30 years trying to prevent pregnancy. That can add up to thousands of dollars spent on prescription birth control.”
Little wonder that, according to a recent survey, more than one-third of American women voters have struggled with the cost of prescription birth control at some point in their lives, and, as a result, have used birth control inconsistently. Planned Parenthood reports that “this number rises dramatically among younger women, with more than half (55 percent) mentioning a time when they could not afford to use birth control consistently.”
Thus, “In the U.S., half of all pregnancies are unintended.” Inevitably, a great many uniplanned pregnancies end in abortion. “If we are serious about reducing the unacceptably high rate of unintended pregnancies in this country, we need to get at the root cause and take practical steps to increase access to affordable birth control,” Planned Parenthood observes.
Without the Affordable Care Act– What Women Would Lose
The GOP platform states that a Republican President would use his waiver authority “on his first day in office” to halt progress in carrying out the Affordable Care Act. Romney has pledged to repeal health reform during his first 100 days in the White House.
This means that insurers selling policies in the individual market would be able to continue charging a women at least 30 percent more than they would charge a man for exactly the same policy–even if the coverage did not include maternity benefits.
Women also would lose free access to a list of preventive services that the ACA requires that insurers offer without co-pays, and without applying deductibles.
For women, the essential preventive services include: free screening for cervical and breast cancer; breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling; well-women visits, prenatal care, screening and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV; screening for gestational diabetes; and screening and counseling for domestic partner violence.
Planned Parenthood and Title X
Mitt Romney has pledged that he will “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, an organization that operates nearly 800 health centers throughout the United States, offering sexual and reproductive health care for the nearly three million women and men who visit these centers each years. While helping women avoid unintended pregnancies, Planned Parenthood also provides roughly 770,000 Pap tests and nearly 750,000 breast exams annually, along with more than four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections. At sometime in their lives, one in five American women have found help at Planned Parenthood.
During his Sunday interview on Fox, Mitt Romney reiterated his desire to defund the organization, arguing that taxpayer dollars should not fund abortion.
Here is the truth: abortion constitutes only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services and abortion is covered by private funds. Federal dollars are not used.
Mitt Romney’s fiscal plan also proposes eliminating Title X—the main federal family-planning program supported by President Nixon and then-Congressman George Bush Sr. at its creation in 1970. Title X does not pay for abortions, but it prevents abortions and unintended pregnancies by the hundreds of thousands each year. It also pays for cancer screening and some abstinence counseling for teenagers.
In Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry already has rejected Title X money, assuring that countless poor women in his state will be denied access to all reproductive health care, from birth-control pills to Pap smears.
Misogyny: The Elephant in the Room
That both Bush and Nixon supported Title X serves as a reminder of how much the Republican party has changed. As New York Magazine’s Frank Rich points out in a marvelous piece titled “Stag Party”: “For much of its history, misogyny was not the style of the party of Lincoln. For most of the twentieth century, the GOP was ahead of the curve in bestowing women’s rights
Today, many Americans under 40 have no idea how different the GOP (not the mention the country as a whole) was 25 or 30 years ago.
Rich takes us back, reminding us that Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (who in 1964 was considered ultra-conservative) was married to a woman who had been “inspired by birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger.” Thus, Peggy Goldwater “would help build one of the nation’s largest Planned Parenthood affiliates.”
Barry Goldwater favored abortion rights. “‘I think the average woman feels, My God, that’s my business,’ and that’s the way we should keep it,” he said late in his career.
Rich goes on to reveal that “Prescott Bush, the Connecticut senator who sired a presidential dynasty, was another Sanger enthusiast and treasurer for the first national Planned Parenthood fund-raising campaign. His son, George when a congressman in the sixties, was an ardent birth-control advocate and the principal Republican author of the trailblazing Family Planning Act of 1970. ”
“Capitol Hill colleagues jokingly nicknamed him ‘Rubbers.’”
Even Richard Nixon, that much misunderstood liberal Republican, favored the Equal Rights Amendment and in 1972 signed the Equal Employment Opportunity Act to strengthen the policing of workplace discrimination.”
But Nixon was nothing if not a study in anguished contradictions. “At the tail end of the Nixon presidency,” Rich notes, “the GOP started backing away from its traditional beneficence on women’s issues.” In a telling shift, “Nixon vetoed a bipartisan bill enabling child care for the millions of mothers then rapidly joining the workforce.”
Looking back, the timing makes sense. Both Watergate and Nixon’s “enemies’ list” foreshadowed the deepening parenoia that would lead to a purge with the Republican party itself.
Granted, it would be two decades before the GOP’s “Big Tent” collapsed. The liberal and moderate Republicans who I had admired in the 1970s and 1980s (Nelson Rockefeller, Lowell Weicker, and Charles Mathias, to name a few) would disappear. But it was not until the 1990 that the long knives came out, and moderates began to be sliced out of the party. Some gave up and retired.
Why did Nixon kill the childcare bill? Rich explains: “His veto was accompanied by a jarring statement that child care would threaten American families by encouraging women to work,” The inspiration for this unexpected reactionary broadside came . . . from political strategists eager to exploit the growing backlash against the sixties feminist movement.”
Backlash–As Male “Influence and Power” Declines
What we are seeing in the GOP today is a continuation of the pay-back that Susan Faludi described in her 1991 book, Backlash.
Conservatives like to claim that “The War Against Women” is a metaphor manufactured by Democrats as they prepared for the 2012 election. This simply is not true. Long ago, women such as Faludi saw that herd of elephants coming our way.
In fact, as Rich points out, in 1996 “Tanya Melich, the daughter of a state senator in ultraconservative Utah” who grew up “to be a stalwart New York Republican and a 1992 Bush convention delegate, wrote a book titled The Republican War Against Women. “These days,” he writes, “her eyewitness account of her party’s transformation seems more pertinent and prescient than ever.”
The anger that Republicans direct toward women that can be traced to the “women’s movement” of the 1960s. Men feared that women would take their jobs. Husbands were threatened; once their wives had some financial independence, they might decide to strike out on their own. Fathers realized that the “Pill” would give their daughters sexual freedom: marriage could become a choice, not a necessity.
Worst of all, as women gained power, both in the workplace and in government, this could mean that men would find themselves having to answer to the likes of Elizabeth Warren. (In 2009, when Warren, who is now running to recapture Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat for the Democrats, questioned Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner about 13 billion dollars Goldman Sachs got out the back door of AIG –“Do you know where the money went?” — her tough, probing questions made jaws drop– including Geithner’s. Geithner would later express opposition to her possible nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.)
In Backlash, Faludi quotes Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, two political scientists who have explored the “politics of backlash”: “The reaction” is driven by “groups which are declining in a felt sense of importance, influence and power,” they explain, “Unlike classic conservatives” Faludi adds, “these ‘pseudo conservatives,’ as Theodore Adorno dubbed them…are not so much defending a prevailing order as resurrecting an outmoded or imagined one.”
She also quotes the historian Richard Hofstadter: “‘America has largely been taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.’”
In other words, they are afraid, and when people are “on the run,” some turn mean.
Conservative white men know that the demographics are against them. Before long, they will be outnumbered, and in future years, more and more African Americans, Latinos, Asians and women of all races will be in positions of power.
Let me be clear: I am not talking about majority of white men. My husband, his brother, my son, his father (my ex-husband), and a great many men who I know either personally or professionally do not fit this mold.
But, without question, some white conservative men saw Barack Obama’s election in 2008 as a sign that the country “was being taken away from them.” To Mitch McConnell, Obama’s re-election would constitute what Hofstadter terms “the final destructive act of subversion.”
In a sense, those who feared the rise of feminism in the 1960s were right. The women’s movement would never be snuffed out. Instead, it became part of our culture. Today many fewer women call themselves “feminists.” The vast majority of younger women simply assume that they have a right to work, to assume positions of power in the larger world, to control what happens to their bodies. This is the legacy of the Sixties.
The Violence against Women Act
Women also take it for granted that they have a right to protection against the rage that sometimes threatens them–and their children– in their own homes.
Nevertheless, this year, House Republicans felt free to block renewal and expansion of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a 20 -year-old law that offers shelter and counseling to women who have been beaten or sexually assaulted by spouses or partners.
In the past, renewal was not even in question. But today, “Some conservative groups view the Violence Against Women Act as “a slush fund for feminist causes that harms men unfairly and encourages the dissolution of marriages,” the New York Times reported .
Last week, I wrote about how and why Republicans were able to block the VAWA on HealthInsurance.Org. Conseratives claim that Democrats “politicized” the issue by turning it into a fight over illegal immigrants, Gays and Lesbians. I do not buy that argument. Nor did all seven Republican women in the Senate. They voted to renew the bill.
That post also explains why it is so important that, in November, women–and men who like women–come out to vote. The turnout, not just in the Presidential contest, but in many Congressional races, will determine who takes over Washington.
Before going to the polls, check out this piece Healthinsurance.org, showing how your elected representatives havevoted on heatlh care reform. Those votes will help you measure where they stand on protecting women’s health.
cross posted with Healthbeat blog