Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Double-Bind: Anti-Choice Advocates Attack Abortion, but Deny Support to Mothers

In the recent presidential primary debates, the Republican candidates have shown a drastic shift to the right on their stance on abortion. In last few decades, Republican candidates have almost always taken a “pro-life” stance, however, it seems the candidates in this election cycle are taking the issue to the extreme. Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Michelle Bachman have been strong proponents for “personhood” legislation, which would define life as beginning at the moment of conception; this legislation is so controversial that the Mississippi Catholic Church called the Prop 26 Personhood Amendment “too extreme” and even the National Right to Life organization opposed it because it would not allow exceptions for pregnancies that endanger the life of the mother, or pregnancies that were the result of rape or incest.

However, rape and incest do not seem to phase the candidates. Newt Gingrich was quoted as supporting an amendment to allow states to decline funding for abortions in the case of rape and incest in 1995, and Herman Cain recently announced that he opposes all abortions, including those to end pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Rick Santorum also stated that abortion should be completely banned regardless of the situation; he described abortions as “traumatizing” and thinks that victims of sexual assault would benefit from carrying their rapist’s baby to term. Santorum would not only make illegal all forms of abortion, but if elected, he would try to limit access to contraception: “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country,” He says, “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Hmmm, I wonder if he's aware that more than 99 percent of women, aged 15–44 have used at least one form of contraception...

The attack on women’s reproductive autonomy does not stop there. Strangely enough, although these candidates are urging women to “choose life” over abortion, the Republican party is also trying to de-fund services that assist mothers and young children. In September, the Republican leadership released its draft Fiscal Year 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education spending bill, that reduces funding for health care reform by at least $8.6 billion and makes significant cuts to services for low income women and families. Among other cuts, they proposed a $1.8 million reduction for Title V Maternal and Child Health Services, as well as the termination of the Title V Maternal, Infant and Early Child Health Home Visiting Program, the Pregnancy Assistance Fund, and Title X Family Planning grants, which would result in millions of women losing access to basic primary and preventive health care, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, annual exams and STD testing. According to the Guttmacher Institute, publicly funded clinics such as Title X Family Planning programs are estimated to help to prevent nearly two million unintended pregnancies each year, almost half of which would otherwise (ironically) end in abortion.

This alarming lack of support for mothers is echoed by several of the candidates. Santorum, despite his “pro-life” position, was quoted blaming single mothers for the economic struggles of the country and suggesting that it is their voice in the poll booth that Republicans should combat: “Look at the political base of the Democratic Party: it is single mothers who run a household. So if you want to reduce the Democratic advantage, what you want to do is build two parent families.” What exactly do you propose Santorum? Perhaps a bill that requires a pregnant woman to get married or else be thrown in jail?

How can someone who claims to oppose abortion at all costs also show outright disdain of single mothers? Unfortunately, this sort of rhetoric is far too common in the current political dialogue, all conveying the same message: sexuality (especially female sexuality) and female independence is bad, that women are incapable of making good decisions, and that they should not be entrusted with control over their own bodies. With the upcoming elections, women’s issues are at the forefront, with the emphasis on limiting access to family planning and eliminating the right to choose. Now more than ever, it is important to be outspoken about the importance of reproductive justice, to educate our friends, and talk to our representatives about why reproductive choice is a freedom we do not want to lose.