The heated battle over abortion, contraception and women’s health care has taken on such a life of its own that no one has noticed who is getting hurt the most…the babies.
The most recent twist to the already twisted issue is the show down between the State of Texas and Medicaid, which provides funding for health care services for women in poverty. Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a new state law that excludes Planned Parenthood programs from receiving Medicaid reimbursements. In effect, the Texas legislature passed a law that violates federal law on how Medicaid is administered. In response the Center for Medicaid and State Operations cancelled all funding for women’s health services, gutting poor women’s access to good care in Texas.
The big winner? I don’t know who that could be. The biggest losers are most certainly the babies who will be born without pre-natal care. In addition to family planning (including both contraception and abortion counseling) Planned Parenthood has provided both preventive care exams and pre-natal care. This pre-natal care is perhaps the most crucial predictor of a baby’s future health. This is when moms-to-be get get their advice about nutrition, vitamins and lifestyle choices. They receive information about the tragic effects of alcohol and drug use. If poor women can’t see a doctor during pregnancy, who will test them for gestational diabetes or other conditions that can harm them and their babies?
Opposition to abortion does look like a war on women. For decades now activists have slowly tightened state laws until a woman can only obtain an abortion if she is able to pay the cost of traveling to a provider, pay to see the provider, and spend days and dollars for legally mandated waiting periods to obtain the procedure. Some states are trying to mandate that doctors must mislead women about connections between abortion and breast cancer. Arizona’s House of Representatives passed a bill this month that would make it easier for an employer to fire a woman for using birth control.
Even reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has hit a partisan divide. All Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against it because an amendment expands protections for lesbian and gay partners as well as immigrants. Yet VAWA seeks to protect victims of domestic violence, who include pregnant women and small children.
Then there is the cut in funding to WIC, the supplemental food program that helps low income mothers with children under the age of 5. The 2012 budget passed by the U.S. House of Representatives cuts WIC so sharply it is estimated the program will have to turn away more than 700,000 eligible low-income women and young children next year.
There are efforts to block access to birth control. There are cuts to Planned Parenthood and its pre-natal care. There are opponents to VAWA and its protections against abuse. There are cuts to WIC, which helps with adequate nutrition for young children.
The battle over abortion, contraception and women’s health care services is on track for a head on collision. How do all of these disparate actions add up to protection for our babies?