When an American says that a situation “could have been a lot worse” in December, it is likely they are referring to some kind of Republican assault on the people in the appropriations process. The GOP is in the habit of waiting until the last minute to fund the government so they can use a budget crisis to either slash a social program out of existence, or insert a rider (esoteric provision) deleting an important program. The recent appropriations bill known as the CRomnibus could have been a lot worse for women’s reproductive rights and it is very fortunate for women that Democrats and President Obama succeeded in getting it passed.
Like many Americans who were concerned that a Republican Congress use funding the government to lay waste to myriad programs, women’s reproductive rights advocates breathed a tepid sigh of relief because Republicans failed to pass spending cuts to further erode women’s rights. It is going to be bad enough according to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who promised the first thing on the Republican Congress’s agenda is a religious attack on women, but they will still have the President’s veto to deal with.
The CRomnibus the President signed on Tuesday contains the typical provisions barring federal funding for most abortions, forbids federal and local funding for abortions in the District of Columbia, and denies abortion funds for federal prisoners, but there are no new restrictions. If the CRomnibus had not passed, Republicans were panting to use the funding mechanism to make the anti-women’s rights measures in Republican-controlled states like North Carolina and Texas the law of the land. Fortunately, Democrats were not going to let that happen.
According to Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero, Republicans hoped the CRomnibus would not pass so they could have abolished funding for family planning programs and ban hospitals from offering abortion services. He said, “the anti-woman’s majority wanted to push any number of dangerous provisions in 2015,” and was grateful that Democrats were successful in “stripping several anti-women’s rights measures” from the final budget by fighting to “secure current funding levels for important federal reproductive health programs.” Democrats also won abortion coverage for members of the Peace Corps who are raped and assaulted at an alarming level.
“The appropriations bill is an important step in the right direction when it comes to women’s health—holding the line on deeply unpopular abortion restrictions and expanding access for Peace Corps volunteers.” Democrats forced a spending measure in the bill that for the first time provides Peace Corps members access to (limited) abortion coverage in cases of rape or to save the life of the mother. Republicans were not happy, in spite of a University of Ottawa, Princeton, and Cambridge Reproductive Health Consultants study revealing that nearly 9% of Peace Corps volunteers reported being raped or sexually assaulted during their service.
Republicans tried to insert a number of anti-abortion riders in the budget such as the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act giving religious doctors, health insurance companies, and hospitals power to both decline women abortion services, and refuse to give women information about their reproductive choices. Another religious Republican proposal being pushed in GOP-controlled states banned private, self-paid, health insurance plans sold through the Affordable Care Act exchanges from covering abortion. They also attempted to eliminate tax benefits for small businesses involved in any health insurance plan that covers abortion. Both measures are a high priority for the Hobby Lobby, United States Council of Catholic Bishops” crowd and if not for a fierce Democratic opposition; the theocrats would have unilaterally imposed universal compliance to Hobby Lobby’s owner’s beliefs on every small business in America.
Republicans also sought to force a severe reduction in funding for family planning programs, but Democrats stood strong for women’s rights. Besides cutting all funding to Planned Parenthood, Republicans tried slashing funding for the Title X Family Planning Program that helps low-income women avoid unwanted pregnancies. In fact, instead of defunding the program, Democrats secured close to the same funding as last year. Democrats also included $101 million in funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program Republicans detest; their preference in teen pregnancy prevention consists of biblical abstinence.
According to the director of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute, Heather Boohstra, “On balance, in terms of the reproductive rights agenda, we could have been in a lot worse position than where we ended up;” a remark that epitomizes understatement.
One of the reasons, besides Democratic voter apathy, really extreme religious Republican candidates easily won re-election, or election, to the Senate and several governorships is because of a concerted effort by the anti-women’s reproductive rights movement to get out the vote. Whether it was the American Family Association, National Right to Life movement, Personhood movement, or Hobby Lobby supporters, their primary focus was electing anti-women candidates to push their extreme religious anti-contraception and reproductive rights agenda at the federal level.
That religious right electoral support is why Mitch McConnell said the first item on Senate Republicans’ agenda is enacting severe bans on women’s reproductive rights. It is worth reiterating again that religious Republicans in the House have, for three years running, passed “personhood” legislation that failed in the Democratic controlled Senate. Republicans in the Senate have proposed their own “personhood” legislation but their efforts were thwarted by the Democratic majority. Several of the newly-elected Senate Republicans have already promised to push the personhood agenda that effectively criminalizes abortion and contraception.
As Heather Boohstra said, the CRomnibus could have been worse, and although Republicans’ anti-women’s crusade failed to defund (eliminate) a wide variety of women’s reproductive rights, they will not be deterred from passing standalone legislation setting women’s rights back to the early 20th century; if not the Dark Ages.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.