Pamela J. Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona
Today, five men on the US Supreme Court ruled that closely held, for-profit businesses can deny birth control coverage to women employees on the grounds that the corporate person’s religious freedom has been somehow diminished.
The SCOTUS decision on two cases– Burwell vs Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities vs Burwell– is just the most recent assault on women’s rights and reproductive freedom.
In recent years, hundreds of bills passed by red state legislatures have chipped away at women’s rights to the extent that lives will be lost as more women are denied access to affordable contraception, women’s health services, and legal abortions. Although the south has been particularly hard hit, many states (including Arizona) have been working diligently to restrict access by burdening clinics with unnecessary regulations. Republicans in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana are shutting down nearly all of their clinics. Ohio Republicans want to stop women from using IUDs— one of the most effective forms of birth control.
In many states, women now are forced to drive hundreds of miles to have legal abortions or drive to Mexico for a dangerous backroom deal or buy do-it-yourself drugs at flea markets or have children they cannot physically, financially or emotionally care for. Several states that have curtailed women’s health services– like Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Louisana– have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. These Republican strategies will result in pre-mature death– especially for poor women and their children.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, quoted by Think Progress, the 8.6 million women of reproductive age who in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi may soon be served by only 12 abortion clinics in the entire region, and there will be no clinics in the state of Mississippi or in the western regions of Texas and Oklahoma. (Map here.)
Many of the states with the highest poverty rates (map) are the same states whose lawmakers have opted out of Medicaid expansion (map) and passed laws to restrict access to reproductive services (map). Women who live in the south and up through the middle of the country are screwed.
What makes all of this really depressing is when you look at poverty rates for women and children. From the National Women’s Law Center (pdf)…
And you compare that to pregnancy rates for unmarried women. According to the US Census Bureau (pdf), births to unmarried women have been increasing since 1940. The birth rate for unmarried women was 80% higher in 2007 than it was in 1980. Nationwide, 35.7% of births are to unmarried women, but the rates vary widely by state. In three states– Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico– plus the District of Columbia nearly 50% of births are to unmarried women.
An underground railroad has sprung up to help women get the care they need; this is not unlike what happened in the early 1970s when abortions were legal in New York and Michigan– but no where else. This is a bandaid solution.
As I mused the other day, what is the Republican end game here? Is it all about race, money, and power? You betcha ya.
By denying basic healthcare through Medicaid and denying reproductive services by closing most– if not all– abortion clinics, Republicans are dooming millions of women and their children to lives of poverty, unnecessary disease, and premature death.
Women are indeed second class citizens in the United States.