Waging war on family planning

BY MATT HEINZE | JUNE 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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I hate to sound like another liberal bleeding heart beating the war drum in Iowa City, but as far as I’m concerned, there are some issues on which one cannot remain silent. Family planning is one of those issues, and the war upon it is very much real.

Last week, Republicans in Iowa’s House of Representatives passed an anti-abortion bill whose language would include some of the toughest restrictions in the country. And though the bill will not pass the state Senate, its existence should signal new concerns for progressives everywhere.

Over the past year, the struggle over reproductive services has intensified as budget cuts have given social conservatives a new opportunity to micromanage women’s health and influence their decision-making process. On both a national and statewide level, government funding for reproductive health-care providers has been called into question, with the most visible of providers being Planned Parenthood. And while the majority of Planned Parenthood’s services range from sexual education to providing birth control for those without financial means, the organizations’ small role in performing abortions has led to great dispute over its procurement of government funds.

Indiana has passed a law preventing government funding from going to Planned Parenthood, and lawmakers there continue to chip away by attempting to remove any form of tax incentives to the organization or its donors. And though many in the executive branch have challenged the legality of Indiana’s blocking funds, conservative lawmakers in other states seem keen to follow in Indiana’s footsteps of adopting legislation preventing government funds from reaching organizations providing reproductive-health services.

Republicans attacking reproductive services should come as no surprise. What should be noted, though, is the current conservative movement’s virulence in attempting to shift the reproductive-rights movement into their favor.

These budget battles over women’s health services are just a smokescreen. Conservatives have for decades been gearing up for their blockbuster event of the century: a forceful sequel to 1973s classic melodrama Roe v. Wade, a case in which the Supreme Court decided a young pregnant woman should, in fact, be entitled to decide what’s best for her own body.

In a more technical sense, though, Roe v. Wade set the precedent of “fetal viability,” which prevents states from enacting their own legislation banning abortions before the fetus is able to sustain itself outside the woman’s body. The term is synonymous with Sandra Day O’Connor, who in 1983 famously proclaimed that Roe v. Wade was “on a collision course with itself” because of advancements that would affect the point of viability. In other words, O’Connor prophesied the decisions made in Roe v. Wade would not be lasting and would be subject to subsequent court decisions.

Not content to wait for medical advances that would allow viability at much earlier stages of pregnancy, or perhaps realizing that the necessary advances may never come, conservatives have decided that now is the perfect opportunity to strike at family planning. To do so, legislators in numerous states have decided to charge headlong at the issue of fetal viability by setting abortion restrictions at points much earlier than that which the Supreme Court determined was medically feasible — including our own state of Iowa.

In setting these restrictions, one can only imagine the hope is that a particularly jarring clause will someday soon send abortion up the steps of the Supreme Court once more. For proof, one needn’t look any farther than Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, who earlier this year proposed an amendment blocking the federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

“I long for the day that Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history,” Pence said during his address to Congress on behalf of his amendment. The measure passed the House but was struck down easily in the Senate.

The budget attacks on Planned Parenthood were only the beginning. These direct affronts to Roe v. Wade are the next step. To believe otherwise is naïve at best.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly called Mike Pence a congressman from Idaho. The Daily Iowan regrets the error.

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