Saturday, February 26, 2011

Commentary on Assault on Planned Parenthood: "War on Women" Targeting Poor Women

As a follow-up to what I posted a few days ago about Planned Parenthood (a posting that has elicited quite a bit of commentary, suggesting the strong divide that runs through many faith communities today, including the Catholic church, about "pro-life" issues): I'd like to draw attention to several significant statements of the past day or so.

First Jason Linkins and Kevin Bunkley note at Huffington Post how the assault on Planned Parenthood is part of a much larger assault on women's reproductive rights and on health services--contraceptive ones, iamong others--for low-income women throughout the nation.  It's going on everywhere, both at the federal level and in statehouses across the U.S.  And it's part of a concerted effort to turn the clock back vis-a-vis women's access to birth control, in which poor women are being asked to bear the brunt of the socially regressive attack.

In its editorial today on this issue, the New York Times characterizes what is taking place as a "war on women," stating,

Republicans in the House of Representatives are mounting an assault on women’s health and freedom that would deny millions of women access to affordable contraception and life-saving cancer screenings and cut nutritional support for millions of newborn babies in struggling families. And this is just the beginning. 

As the Times editorial points out, the bill that would slash funding for Planned Parenthood also seeks to eliminate support for Title X's federal program providing birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and HIV testing to low-income women.  The bill also seeks to restrict family planning and reproductive health care overseas, where U.S. dollars are spent to provide health services in other nations.  The "pro-life" legislators sponsoring the attack on Planned Parenthood also want to cut nutritional programs serving millions of  low-income women and children, along with programs providing prenatal health care to poor women.

Ryan Grim does a good job at Huffington Post of showing how the religious and political right have ginned up support for the attack on Planned Parenthood by disseminating absurd disinformation to religious groups exercised about abortion (e.g., "Your tax dollars support abortions through Planned Parenthood") and through Lila Rose's doctored, misleading, downright mendacious videos seeking to depict Planned Parenthood as a corrupt organization. 

As Charles Blow points out in New York Times, this bogus moral crusade, which is so deeply anti-life rather than pro-life in key respects, has significant moral implications: while pretending to care intently about pre-born life, those promoting this legislation are exceptionally callous about the quality of life of those already born, particularly when babies are born to economically struggling mothers.  Blow's moral conclusion:

It is savagely immoral and profoundly inconsistent to insist that women endure unwanted — and in some cases dangerous — pregnancies for the sake of “unborn children,” then eliminate financing designed to prevent those children from being delivered prematurely, rendering them the most fragile and vulnerable of newborns. How is this humane?

And as Jonathan Bernstein suggests at his Plain Blog two days ago, the reason we--the reason the American people--are sitting ducks for this kind of savage pseudo-moral and pseudo pro-life crusade is that we are simply ill-informed, most of us.  We let ourselves be twisted and turned hither and yon by ideologues who feed us a steady diet of disinformation.  In our faith communities, many of us are bombarded by a constant stream of lurid misrepresentations of facts about abortion, about what is known scientifically regarding fetal development, and so forth.

Those lurid misrepresentations, packaged as pious concern for unborn babies, cause us to leap onto a "pro-life" bandwagon that, in key respects, has nothing at all to do with respect for the sanctity of life, and, indeed, is callously indifferent to the value of life in almost any arena outside the abortion arena.  And so we become willing tools in political battles that have nothing at all to do with creating a culture of respect for life, and everything to do with partisan politics and with the determination of the ideologues using faith communities in partisan political battles to serve the interests of a single political party.

For Catholics, an important question to ask is this: Are the U.S. bishops capable of using rhetoric about abortion to serve political ends that have little or nothing to do with respect for life?  If the answer to that question might be yes--if there are plausible reasons to suggest that the bishops' concern for pre-born life is in any way overlaid with political goals and political intent that have little to do with respect for life--then perhaps we'd be better off stepping back a moment from the overheated rhetoric and analyzing what the bishops are asking us to do.  And why they're constantly nudging us onto the front lines of the abortion war.

And whether they have any compelling status now as moral teachers, given their performance with the abuse crisis.  It's time we shook off our slumber and became better educated, many of us--if, that is, we really care about respect for life in all its manifold ramifications, in our culture.  Attacking poor women and their children in the name of preserving the sanctity of life is morally heinous.

To do better, we need to learn better.

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