"Women are really being used as political bargaining chips," says Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation in Boston.
X-ING OUT TITLE X
The last straw may have been one of the least surprising: House passage of a bill, pushed by Indiana Republican Mike Pence, to deny all federal Title X funding for family-planning services.
Title X funding has been included in federal budgets with little controversy for four decades, but would be zeroed out — to the tune of more than $300 million — under the bill.
That would effectively end subsidies for birth-control pills and related doctor's visits — handing an annual price tag of up to $1000 to low-income women who can't afford it, Smeal says.
Title X also provides low-income women with cervical-cancer screening and testing for STDs.
Another Pence amendment specifically denies all federal funding to Planned Parenthood, currently the largest recipient of Title X funds, and the leading provider of family-planning and reproductive-health services for low-income women.
At the Kennedy School appearance last week, Cantor was asked about the defunding of Planned Parenthood. He claimed it was not ideological, but a reaction to revelations that the organization "was engaged in some very ugly tactics, and some very bad things," which made funding it "unacceptable."
This refers to a gotcha video, released a month ago, purporting to show Planned Parenthood employees advising a pimp on getting abortions for his underage sex workers. (One employee in New Jersey has been fired as a result.)
But that is not the real impetus for the bill — which is merely a resubmission of what Pence tried to pass in 2009. That was long before the videos, but got near-unanimous GOP support. Back then, there were not enough Republicans to win the floor vote (even with 20 Democrats voting with them). But after the November elections gave the GOP a majority, the bill's passage became almost inevitable.
Cantor's pinning the vote on the gotcha videos is telling, for two reasons. On one hand, it suggests that he realizes that defunding family-planning services is too unpopular to defend on its own merits.
But on the other, it shows how driven the Republican Party is by the nuttiest, fact-free wing of its conservative base. That group believes the gotcha videos circulating on the Web, and the conspiracies they supposedly revealed. They also believe Glenn Beck's attempts in recent months to tar Planned Parenthood with the racist writings of its founder Margaret Sanger — in fact, legislators backing the "prenatal murder" bill in Georgia claim they are doing so to stop Planned Parenthood's goal of eliminating the black race.
The entire Republican US House caucus recently voted unanimously to end federal funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), on the grounds that it promotes forced abortion and sterilization in China — an Internet myth that has been repeatedly debunked over the years, but that survives in extreme pro-life circles, and apparently in the US House majority.
HOW REAL A THREAT?
Official Democratic Party strategists, who want to keep the focus on jobs and the economy, have been reluctant to push these "social issues." But facing this wide-ranging threat, women's organizations are done waiting, and are coordinating to draw national attention to the issue — under the banner of a Republican war on women.