The Stupak-Pitts amendment to the House bill for health care
reform grabbed most of the headlines after the health care reform vote. It makes sense—the media and socially
conservative politicians love to bang the drum about abortion. The media loves playing the misleading
“both sides” card (falsely implying that the anti-choice movement is motivated
by Deep Moral Concerns instead of archaic sexual paranoia and misogyny), and
socially conservative politicians love how creating a panic over abortion can distract
everyone from more pertinent issues.
Issues such as improving women’s overall health care.
In all the fuss over Stupak-Pitts, the fact that both houses
of Congress removed
mandated coverage not only for contraception, but also STD counseling and
pelvic exams went largely unnoticed.
As Sharon Lerner explains in the linked piece, the reason goes right
back to those anti-choicers who claim merely to be concerned about fetal life
(and not about controlling female sexuality). Fear of anti-choice hysterics made removing mandated
contraception and cancer screening for women an easy choice for Congress. And, just as anti-choicers would hope,
all the fuss over abortion meant that few people were asking questions about
exactly why contraception, which 98% of women will use at some point in their
lives, suddenly became controversial.
The reason tells you a lot about how Stupak-Pitts got into
the bill in the first place.
Sex-phobes have an outsized presence and power on the Hill. Part of it is that they’re simply
louder. The Christian right has
done a bang-up job of recruiting an army of bitter, underemployed misogynists
and naïve teenagers who fear sex to march around on command whenever the word
“abortion” is uttered, making the sex-phobic presence in the U.S. seem bigger
than it is.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Part of it is that the Christian right also focuses so much
of its energy on courting people in power. As
Rachel Maddow reported, Bart Stupak is a member of the notorious C Street
Family, and it seems very likely that he agreed to be the figurehead for the
Stupak-Pitts amendment at their request.
This group of fundamentalist Christians preaching a theology of male
dominance and something very close to the divine right of politicians has
wisely chosen to start recruiting among Democrats, in order to spread its
power. The result is not only a
startling number of Democrats becoming belligerent anti-choicers, but helping
create an atmosphere of fear about touching the subject of female control over
Another part of it is that anti-choicers, since they can
hide behind a moralizing mask, have no problem talking about sex, but
pro-choicers avoid the topic out of shame. Everyone fears being tarred as someone who is openly
pro-sex, which gets rewritten by anti-choicers as pro-promiscuity or
pro-irresponsibility. Even though, of course, pro-choicers are the only people
promoting a responsible vision of sexuality, where pleasure is balanced with
honesty and mindfulness.
But watching all this nonsense go down, I’m forced to
suggest that the major factor is that our government is still mainly run by a
bunch of middle-aged men who’ve been shielded from having to deal honestly and
empathetically with women’s lives their whole lives, and therefore are prone to
seeing women’s concerns as disposable at best, and at worst, as frighteningly
alien and needing to be controlled.
When you have that attitude, it’s easy to push aside all the ways you’ve
personally benefited from contraception and abortion, and just assume the only women
who need assistance in those areas are wayward sluts who need to be slapped
down instead of given a hand.
After all, I’m sure most of these men have had the benefit of women who
quietly make sure that fertility control is taken care of, without bothering
the over-privileged men in their lives.
Knowing this, it’s not hard to see why some folks are panicking
over provisions aimed at lower income women that involve advice on using
fertility control for better health outcomes for mothers and children. On paper, this provision seems harmless
enough. It provides optional at-home visits for new mothers under certain
income levels in order to advise the new mothers on the benefits of pregnancy
spacing, as well as giving them education in domestic violence and education
options for their children.
As written, the only problem I see with it is that it’s
limited to low-income women. After
all, the advice about pregnancy spacing is good for any woman who plans to have
more than one child, and the information about this is relatively new. The assumption that middle class but
not lower class women have access to this information is both paternalistic and
just plain wrong. These
restrictions imply that low-income women are especially ignorant on this
subject, which doesn’t seem to be true.
But in an atmosphere where legislators on a
woman-controlling kick are writing bills like this, a seemingly harmless
provision about giving generally useful advice takes on an ominous light. After all, our legislators have
indicated that they’re willing to use health care reform to manipulate women’s
bodies and deprive women of their reproductive choice. Add to that a
history of compulsory sterilization of women that the powers that be think
are illegitimate reproducers, and you have a situation where hyper-vigilance
about provisions like this isn’t so much paranoid as smart.
The government could go a long way to earning back our
trust. First of all, stop using
health care reform to manipulate women’s choices. Make abortion and contraception available to all, as well we
prenatal and post-natal care.
Post-childbirth advice about pregnancy spacing, healthy babies, and
education aren’t something that only low-income women need, and implying that
is paternalistic at best, overbearing and coercive at worst.