Organizing for the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21 has been deep and massive. As of this writing, over 150 “partners” are listed on womensmarch.com. Local marches are planned in multiple cities in 48 states and 26 countries. There is at least one march on every continent, with many in Europe and some in Central and South America.
After the defeat of a woman running for U.S. president by a man who boasted of his coarse sexism and blatant misogyny, many women felt compelled to assert their rights. While the J21 march theme is very general — affirming women’s human rights — the diversity of issues represented by march partners reflects the broad scope of religious, educational, health, social justice, legal and economic action groups in this country.
Reproductive justice under severe attack
Significant J21 partners are the Center for Reproductive Rights, Naral Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood. All are particularly concerned with attacks on reproductive justice that began as soon as the 115th Congress convened. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced on Jan. 5 that the goal of defunding Planned Parenthood was part of the impending budget bill, which would attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. No replacement program for the ACA, also known as Obamacare, has been proposed.
Planned Parenthood has been targeted by the right wing because it is a national provider of abortions, though there has been no federal funding for abortions since the Hyde Amendment passed in 1976. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood provides 2.5 million women and men with a variety of reproductive health care services annually, including birth control and cancer screenings as well as tests for sexually transmitted diseases.
Those who oppose legal, safe, accessible abortion make defunding Planned Parenthood sound deceptively easy. They would just cut funding for Medicaid reimbursements. According to Planned Parenthood, about 75 percent of the $553 million it received in federal reimbursements in 2014 was through Medicaid; two-thirds of its patients rely on Medicaid for health care. (Time, Jan. 7)
In fact, what defunding the organization means in human costs is that the poorest of poor women and men would have to pay out of pocket, look elsewhere for services or go without. Mostly affected would be poor women, women of color, youth, immigrants, women with disabilities, survivors of domestic violence and rural residents — those who rely on Planned Parenthood for essential health care.
There are no alternatives to Planned Parenthood. Existing city health centers are unequipped to give such reproductive health care. Last year, when anti-abortion zealots gave Congress a list of alternative providers of reproductive health care, a quick survey exposed the list as a sham. Podiatrists, optometrists and the Salvation Army are not adequate providers.
Responding to the defunding threat in Time magazine, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, was quoted as saying, “You can’t completely end a public health care system in America and not think about what the impact will be on the folks who have least access to care.” Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, added that defunding Medicaid support for Planned Parenthood would dismantle “decades of work to ensure that low-income women have ready access to family planning.”
Repercussions of repealing the ACA
One reason the right wing can’t wait to get rid of the ACA is that its coverage subsidizes all costs of contraceptives. This created havoc after some companies raised “religious objections” to covering birth control. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor. But a work-around resulted, and the ACA still does not require payment for contraceptives — a real bonus for millions of women.
Without such coverage, many unplanned pregnancies would occur, leading to increased abortions, which have been declining. The decrease is not due to government restrictions on abortions, but to long-term contraceptives. A Guttmacher Institute study noted in March 2016: “The overall rate of unintended pregnancies dropped 18 percent between 2008 and 2011 — its lowest in 30 years.” The study concluded: “These findings have major implications for the U.S. abortion debate as … they validate that supporting and expanding women’s access to contraceptive services leads to a lower incidence of abortion.”
Another reason the ACA has been targeted is because it provides reproductive health care to all women. But its repeal would immediately cut health care access for 20 million people who gained coverage under it. “Repeal could lead to increases in the number of newly uninsured [U.S.] Americans, the number of people facing difficulties from pre-existing conditions, the size of the federal deficit, and how much money people will have to pay for their health care.” (Politifact, Jan. 5)
Repeal would also remove millions of low-income women from Medicaid, because that program was expanded under the law. ACA is also linked to the Medicare program, and its repeal would drastically increase costs for 57 million seniors and the disabled. According to a Kaiser Foundation brief: “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that full repeal of the ACA would increase Medicare spending by $802 billion from 2016 to 2025 … by restoring higher payments to health care providers and Medicare Advantage plans. The increase in Medicare spending would likely lead to higher Medicare premiums, deductibles, and cost sharing for beneficiaries.” (kff.org, Dec. 13, 2016)
Another attack on reproductive justice in the Trump-Pence agenda is to make the Hyde Amendment permanent. But All* Above All, a coalition to overturn the Hyde Amendment led by young people and people of color, launched a new campaign against that on Jan. 3. The “We will be Bold, We won’t be Punished” campaign answers the Trump-Pence plan to shame, bully and punish poor women who have abortions.
The campaign was launched to reinforce an open letter to Trump by 100 members of Congress on Dec. 19, calling for the elimination of the Hyde Amendment. The letter promotes the EACH Woman Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) in 2015, which seeks to lift the ban. “By disrespecting poor women, [anti-abortion] politicians are disrespecting all women — and we will not stand for that,” stated Kierra Johnson, executive director of Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, in a Jan. 3 A*AA release.
‘Rallying cry for resistance’
Calling the campaign a “rallying cry for resistance,” Destiny Lopez, A*AA co-director, noted in a Jan. 9 release, “There are many reasons to oppose Hyde: because you support abortion rights, because you think poor women shouldn’t be discriminated against, or simply because you don’t think politicians should interfere with our personal decisions by taking away coverage.”
Will women-hating, racist, patronizing patriarch Trump and rabidly right-wing evangelical Pence get the message on Jan. 21? Probably not.
What’s most important is that the march is calling into the streets thousands of women of all nationalities, ages, range of physical abilities, gender expressions and identities. Many will be marching for the first time. Millions of women in the U.S. and worldwide will be inspired by this solidarity and determination. Millions will be energized to continue fighting for women’s social and economic rights — for full women’s liberation.