In a blatant attack against Planned Parenthood, an organization lauded for providing preventative care and sexual health education, the Pence Amendment seeks to cut spending by cutting funding from an institution that it claims is the nation’s largest abortion provider.
C. Nicole Mason, 34, the executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University, said she was not surprised that the amendment passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“There is a clear agenda coming out of the House,” Mason said, “It’s very conservative and it’s an agenda that is not in line with the president’s agenda and the priorities of a lot of American working people.”
The American working class is exactly who the legislation targets. The African-American Outreach director for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Veronica Byrd, said the Pence Amendment “does not only target African-American women, it targets minorities and all low-income families. Many of them have no other options.”
“Two-thirds of our patients are either on Medicaid or receive services for a reduced rate or free,” said Erica Sackin, the media content and outreach manager for Planned Parenthood in New York City, who helped organize the protest in Foley Square. “So I think it’s the women who generally need help in paying for health care or don’t have another place to go who it’s targeting, which is reprehensible.”
The legislation is a “blow to women of color,” said Mason, since they make up a substantial demographic of people who go to Planned Parenthood, and as such are facing a “critical battle for Black women and low-income women in general.”
The Pence Amendment, although highlighting its distaste for Planned Parenthood’s abortion services in particular, affects many other Title X—programs created to providing low-income families with relevant family planning and caring services. For one, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) would also see cuts in funding.
According to the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 9 million people nationwide use the WIC, which offers nutritional foods and information on staying healthy for low-income women and their children.
Services that aim to prevent the contraction and spread of disease through STD testing, HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, birth control and family planning are forgotten in the smear campaign that the Pence Amendment favors by painting Planned Parenthood as an anti-community, anti-life entity.
“We don’t realize that a lot of what Planned Parenthood does is pick up the pieces or fill the holes in the things that aren’t working in our health care system,” said Dr. Sarah Miller, a speaker at the protest and part of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health.
To say that the amendment has anything to do with saving money is like “pulling a fast one on America,” said Miller, “There’s actually nothing about it that will save money in the short-term or the long-term.”
Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, who represents neighborhoods including Brownsville, Crown Heights and Flatbush in New York’s 11th District and voted against the legislation, said the Republican-led amendment was “nothing more than misdirection.”
“Under the guise of deficit reduction and blocking abortion access, neither of which will be impacted by Title X, this legislation does nothing more than attack women’s access to health care,” said Clarke.
“Supporters of the Pence Amendment made it clear on the House floor that their goal was to eliminate the services of Planned Parenthood and cut off women’s access to abortions,” said Clarke. “However, as no federal funds go toward abortion, the actual motive behind such tactics speaks for itself.”
So if it isn’t really about cutting government costs, what is the Pence Amendment about? A “callous disregard to women’s rights,” according to New York Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who spoke with passion and clarity as one of over 40 speakers at the protest.
From politicians to musicians, straight women to gay men, the protesting crowd was as diverse as it was loud. Elaborate pictures and even sculptures were part of the signs held to make sure no one could miss their point, all the while protesters screamed, in poetic unison, classic protest chants like, “What do you want? CHOICE! When do you want it? NOW!”
“This is what democracy really means,” said Edna Bonhomme, 26, a young African-American member of the International Socialist Organization. “We have to organize and express. Democracy doesn’t end on Election Day. The people we elect have to be held accountable.”
And there has been no shortage of accountability since the House bill was passed. The sheer speed in which the protest was organized and its subsequent success speaks volumes to the dedication that people—transcending racial and socio-economic barriers—have to point out the wrongdoing of the 240 representatives who voted for the legislation.
The numbers against the legislation do not lie and neither do the statistics against it.
“The conservative estimates are that for every dollar spent on contraception, $4 are saved,” said Miller, who believes that the services offered by the very programs the amendment condemned surpassed any kind of gain the bill could claim.
Without the federal funding, which the CEO of Planned Parenthood states is about two-thirds of their budget, the wide-reaching organization is at the forefront of a grim reality.
“It would be hard to continue our services at the level that we did,” said Sackin, “Obviously we’d do everything we could, [but] what it means if this passes is that more women would go undiagnosed with cancer, more women will contract STIs or STDs, [and] more women will have unwanted babies.”
Whether radical or reactionary, no one can deny the truth and horror in that statement. Through all of the outrage and the united attacks against it, the Pence Amendment and all of its supporters should have learned at least one thing: The bill is unlikely to be passed as it is currently written in the Senate, and if it did survive intact, it would likely be vetoed by President Barack Obama.
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