The Trump administration has made clear its intent to strip Planned Parenthood, and other women’s health groups that provide abortion services, of critical Title X funding, and the attack on women’s rights is hardly out of left field. So far, President Trump’s record on women’s health has consisted of pushing “natural” family planning, enforcing a global gag rule, and promoting an abstinence-only agenda of dangerous ignorance and censorship.
In May, the president announced his intent to slash funding for Planned Parenthood, in addition to a domestic version of the “global gag rule,” which would allow doctors to withhold information about abortion to patients. The decision is widely understood as posturing ahead of midterm elections, as Trump aims to feed Republican candidates’ talking points and follow through on his campaign promise to defund the women’s health organization. Abortion is widely understood as a “make or break” issue for evangelical voters; this is the same voting bloc that impressively manages to justify supporting a president whose policies separate immigrant families purely as an act of performative cruelty intended to deter future immigrants, and promote complacency in mass gun violence affecting school children, on the basis of Trump’s claims of being “pro-life.”
In either case, because Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics are facing discrimination for offering abortion services, it’s naturally worth explaining that none of the federal funding the organization receives actually pays for abortion care, because the Hyde Amendment and laws in many states prohibit this. Medicaid funding can only pay for abortion when continuing the pregnancy will endanger the woman’s life, or when the pregnancy results from rape or incest.
And yet, as women’s rights groups defend the organization from political attacks, it’s important to consider how our language has a tendency to inadvertently reinforce stigma around the abortion procedure, or provide justification for the current discriminatory laws that govern it, even if that’s not the intent. We can’t offer this reminder of restrictions on Planned Parenthood without also opening up a dialogue about why this current reality—one that leaves low-income women without options and transforms abortion from right to privilege—is morally wrong. Abortion is legal and necessary, and the Hyde amendment is unabashedly discriminatory in treating abortion unlike any other equally legal medical service, and creates disproportionate consequences for low-income women and women of color.
Without the economic privilege to access this health care, women on Medicaid are all but forced to carry any pregnancy to term because of a government that is more willing to subject women to the personal beliefs of some, than respect women’s rights, safety, and autonomy. And speaking of the “personal beliefs of some,” those whose delicate consciences Hyde is meant to protect are often the same right-leaning people who don’t question police brutality toward people of color or the cruelty of ICE—institutions that are also publicly funded—but the hypocrisy and sheer cognitive dissonance of anti-choice people could be the subject of another article entirely.
In other words, when we cite the existence of the Hyde amendment as a reasonable compromise to keep Planned Parenthood and other health care providers funded, we affirm a status quo that is deeply harmful to the most vulnerable among women, and also encourage the stigmatization of abortion. For example, another common defense of Planned Parenthood, often cited over the course of the right’s many defunding attempts in recent years, is that abortion care constitutes a distinct minority (about 3 percent, according to some estimates) of the services the organization provides, but this implies that abortion is a shameful service that women’s health groups must distance themselves from.
Whether 3 or 100 percent of the services that an organization provides constitute abortion care would ideally make no difference. Abortion is health care that must be available to all women, without barriers, and certainly without shame. Small, independent clinics, which provide the majority of abortion services in the U.S., are unable to fall back on these same defenses that Planned Parenthood can cite to facilitate compromise with the GOP. In advancing these defenses of Planned Parenthood, we may be inadvertently alienating these clinics and stigmatizing abortion, implicitly agreeing to the anti-choice movement’s terms of debate (that abortion is shameful) and halting any actual progress.
That said, organizations like Planned Parenthood are often forced to struggle for survival, and lack the luxury of actively demanding expanded rights. The GOP’s endless war on women, more often than not, leaves women’s health groups forced to play defense, despite how the rights women currently have are frankly inadequate. And yet, we can no longer ignore how the Hyde amendment has devastated women’s rights and health for generations. We can’t ignore how policies that restrict abortion access are all ultimately rooted in a culture that stigmatizes the procedure, and part of this stigma emerges from the harmful language—inadvertent or not—that we choose to use.
Pointing out that few of the services Planned Parenthood offers consist of abortion care doesn’t yield mass violence the way that calling abortion providers “baby killers” does. There’s no comparison whatsoever to commentary that may serve to distance Planned Parenthood from abortion and commentary that actively attacks and stigmatizes women’s health providers. That said, we could all stand to be more mindful of how we choose to talk about abortion, and work to dismantle stigma that justifies nearly every legislative attack on reproductive rights.
The Trump administration has yet to roll out a complete plan to execute the proposed funding cut and domestic gag rule, but it seems reasonable to expect it before the 2018 midterm elections. Increased access to birth control and sexual health education are correlated with lower abortion rates, while barriers to abortion care only affect the rate at which unsafe abortions take place (driving it up), which really isn’t surprising. There’s nothing to gain and everything to lose by allowing attacks on abortion care to continue.
At the heart of Trump and the right wing’s attacks on Planned Parenthood and women’s health is disdain for abortion, and how it enables women’s ability to control their bodies and have sex for reasons other than procreation. But the defunding of Planned Parenthood, even if successful, will not make abortion and the debate surrounding it disappear. If anything, it will only bring the demand for abortion services and our conversations about the issue front and center.
(image: Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com)
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