On Super Tuesday at a campaign stop in Kirkwood, Mo., Mitt Romney told a local reporter how he'd cut the deficit. That plan includes "getting rid of" Planned Parenthood:
"The test is pretty simple. Is the program so critical, it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And on that basis of course you get rid of Obamacare, that's the easy one. But there are others: Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that. The subsidy for Amtrack, I'd eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, both excellent programs but we can't afford to borrow money to pay for these things. PBS, likewise. It's going to have to start advertising or collect more from subscribers."
For Romney, whose anti-abortion impulses line up quite nicely with which way the wind is blowing, this was a master stroke. In less than five minutes he blew racially coded dog whistles (China...Obamacare), pledged his allegiance to the Republican war on poor and uninsured women's health (Planned Parenthood), repudiated the Birkenstock bloc (PBS...The National Endowment for the Arts) and pretended that it was all just about trimming budgetary fat (Amtrack). Classic.
Although Texas Governor Rick "Niggerhead" Perry is no longer running for president, he's doing his part as well. He's using the New-Old Southern Strategy to attack Planned Parenthood, gutting poor women's access to reproductive healthcare in the name of state's rights.
First, some background: Last year, Texas's Republican-stacked legislature cut two thirds of the state's family planning budget--from $111.5 million to $37.9 million--denying some 180,000 lower-income women breast cancer and diabetes screenings, Pap smears, birth control and other basic needs. The move was widely read as an attack on Planned Parenthood, which provided 40 percent of Texas's non-abortion family planning healthcare at 51 clinics throughout the state. Although, by law, centers that receive these funds don't perform abortions and they're each run independently, pro-lifers insist that all Planned Parenthood clinics promote abortions by (gasp) giving patients referrals for a legal procedure they have to pay for out of their own pockets.
Now it's Perry's turn to get in on the act. As of this week, Texas lost $35 million in federal funds that underwrite the state's Women's Health Program (WHP) because he and his fellow conservative lawmakers insist that Planned Parenthood--which serves freaking 45 percent of women enrolled in WHP--can no longer be in the provider network. Just as it did with Indiana last summer, the Obama administration (rightfully) said that it won't fund state programs that deny women access to qualified providers.
Although Texas lawmakers including Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) are looking for new ways to fund WHP, some 130,000 poor and uninsured women, many of whom are Latina and black, stand to lose access to their Well Woman cancer screenings, contraceptives and STD testing and treatment.
In an infuriating letter to his health and human services commissioner, Perry blamed the (first black) president for the mess:
It is unfortunate that the Obama Administration is once again violating states' rights under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, this time by trying to require that Texas use health providers that are not qualified under Texas law. This push by this administration is nothing more than an effort to continue to financially support abortion providers like Planned Parenthood and their affiliates. Texans send a substantial amount of our tax dollars to Washington, D.C., and it is unacceptable that the Obama administration would deny Texas taxpayers the use of those dollars to fund this program simply because of the administration's pro-abortion agenda.
Last week amid widespread media coverage and pressure from Planned Parenthood supporters, the governor claimed that cash-strapped Texas will "find the money" to continue WHP. I suggest he takes a look at the $8.3 million the state has funneled into faith-based, largely unregulated crisis pregnancy centers that exist to manipulate women and girls who are facing unwanted pregnancies into having babies.
Delia Henry, a 31-year-old public health student at Austin Community College, is one WHP enrollee who could lose her reproductive healthcare. When the Waco native enrolled in school last year, she lost her job selling books because she wasn't working enough hours and the company didn't have a part-time slot for her. Henry lost her her private health insurance and was accepted into the WHP.* She selected Planned Parenthood's Downtown Austin Clinic as her provider.
"I did some research and found that it was the best [clinic] for me to go to because I could get everything--screenings, contraceptives, and even blood sugar testing. I actually found out that my blood sugar was too high as a result of that visit."
Black, single, childless and back in college, Henry represents a population rarely visible in the so-called war on women. She's not destitute by any stretch, but she can't afford private insurance. She doesn't qualify for Medicaid and up until she lost her job, she'd always had her own coverage. In short, Henry is used to having her medical needs met, and she's outspoken about her right to choose where she gets that service.
"Planned Parenthood is comfortable. It's a safety zone in the South where too many of us don't talk about sex, STDs, or anything like that," says Henry, who recently attended a support rally for the nonprofit after learning about the funding fracas in a politics class. "I went there for the first time when I was in my teenage years. I was raised by a single parent--my dad--and he never talked to me about sex. And then I had a grandmother who would tell me that if I was a loose woman having sex outside of marriage that I would get cancer. At Planned Parenthood, I was able to get my education, screenings and birth control."
Henry hasn't thought through what she'll do when the Women's Health Program cuts are in full effect. At the moment she's too angry that we're even having this conversation.
"This whole thing is really disgusting. So far 11 Planned Parenthoods have closed in Texas; some of the women who used them will have to travel 100 miles just to get the things that they need and that's detrimental to people's health. When people are struggling, when they're impoverished, they have trouble getting rides and need things to be convenient," says Henry. "The people fighting against Planned Parenthood say they they don't want [women to get] abortions but they're stopping us from getting education and contraceptives. That's saying one thing but doing the opposite."
Read about why the phrase "states rights" is a racially coded dog whistle here.
Check out this Doonesbury cartoon that address Texas's recently passed pre-abortion, transvaginal sonogram law.
*Post has been updated since publication.