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Trump Administration Considering Defunding Planned Parenthood, Which Will Only Increase Unplanned Pregnancies

Pro-choice activists

Welcome to The Week in Reproductive Justice, a weekly recap of all news related to the hot-button issue of what lawmakers are allowing women to do with their bodies!

This Monday marked former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards’ last day leading the women’s health organization, after announcing her decision to step down in March. Richards recently published her memoir, Make Trouble, in which she recounts her long, rich history in activism. Over the course of her 12-year tenure, dating back to 2006, Richards has led the organization through remarkably turbulent times: Just in the past three years, we’ve witnessed the release of illegally obtained, highly fabricated videos of Planned Parenthood purportedly “selling baby parts,” and all the backlash—in the form of violence and GOP-led defunding attempts—that followed.

That same year, a shooter who identified himself as a “warrior for the babies” shot three dead at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. The election of President Trump, Vice President Pence, and a Republican-dominated Congress—not to mention the relatively recent rise of Republican hegemony in state legislatures across the country—may have yielded unprecedented threats to funding of the organization. But the past two years have seen record-breaking fundraising under Richards’ leadership, and the growth of the organization into an advocacy powerhouse. In other words, Richards leaves a powerful legacy—one of leadership and empowerment through trying times. Through every obstacle the organization faces from here on out, we can all take comfort in its rich history of overcoming similar obstacles under Richards’ guidance.

Iowa legislature effectively bans abortion, moves to defund Planned Parenthood in the same week

It’s been a big week for Iowa. The state legislature passed a ban on abortion at six weeks—the point in a pregnancy when the fetus gains a heartbeat. Six weeks is also prior to when many women even realize they’re pregnant, and prior to when most abortion providers can offer surgical abortion, or the very beginning of when surgical abortion becomes an option.

Ever since the tail-end of 2016, when a similar bill passed Ohio’s state legislature only to be rejected by Ohio Gov. Kasich, fetal “heartbeat bills” have been floated plenty of times in states across the country, but they’ve seldom made it this far, let alone in a state with a governor as vocally and decisively anti-choice as Iowa’s Kim Reynolds.

Reynolds hasn’t confirmed whether she’ll sign the bill, but her record on reproductive rights is certainly cause for concern. In either case, the six-week ban—which is effectively an abortion ban and should be called what it is—would likely immediately head to the courts, much like Missouri’s 15-week ban last month.

Regardless of the bill’s fate, it’s damaging nonetheless in its encouragement of extremism, and just in case this needs to be said, a heartbeat doesn’t magically make an unborn, nonviable fetus a human being. A heartbeat certainly doesn’t make a fetus more deserving of human rights than pregnant women, or for that matter, the born, living children whose needs are ignored every day that Republican lawmakers dedicate to trying to punish and control women.

Following the passage of the six-week ban, not to be topped, the state legislature on Thursday advanced legislation that would ban Planned Parenthood from receiving funding allocated for sexual health education. The irony of a group of lawmakers aiming to end abortion while attacking access to accurate, comprehensive sex ed was not lost on Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s Public Affairs Director Erin Davison-Rippey. “Any reasonable person who wants to see fewer abortions should work with Planned Parenthood to promote sex education and family planning,” Davison-Rippey said in response to the bill.

With an abortion ban and new barrier to family planning access advancing in Iowa’s legislature this semester, let’s not forget the connection between birth control and sex ed access to lower abortion rates. While we’re at it, let’s also not forget the jarring connection between stringent abortion restrictions and constant abortion rates, with higher rates of unsafe abortion.

South Carolina considers ban on all abortions

On Thursday, the South Carolina state Senate refused to end a debate about a bill that would ban all abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and threats to the health of the mother. The bill originated as a ban on the dilation and evacuation procedure, which is the safest and most common form of second trimester abortions. A Democratic, pro-choice senator added an amendment to the bill that would make it ban all abortions; the amendment was meant to be a “poison pill” that would either get it thrown out or, upon passing, see it immediately challenged in court, where a ban on second trimester abortion could have a more legitimate chance of success.

But South Carolina’s legislature being the way it is, state senators proceeded to take the abortion ban seriously, to the extent that it now faces one final vote in the state Senate. Thursday’s session concluded with senators deciding to come in on Friday, which they usually have off, to vote on the bill.

As anti-choice legislation becomes increasingly extreme, it’s time for us to think more critically about the movement’s goals. Bans on abortion are not going to end the procedure; even if such laws, by some miracle, held up in a court of law, or Roe v. Wade were somehow overturned, abortion would still happen at the same rate—just in dangerous circumstances, and at the cost of even more women’s lives. Efforts to end safe abortion access are plainly about punishing women, and bills that are so extreme as to be doomed for failure are about emboldening and commodifying extremism. It’s time to recognize anti-choice legislators’ goals for what they are.

Planned Parenthood sues Trump administration as the president weighs defunding the group

On Monday, following a series of reports about the Health and Human Services Department moving to shift funding from women’s health organizations to abstinence-only and anti-birth control and abortion groups, Axios reported that Trump is seriously considering whether and how to defund Planned Parenthood. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is incidentally leading the charge in trying to convince the president. She’s reportedly citing an uptick in protests of Planned Parenthood, community “alternatives” to its services, its political involvement in supporting Democrats, and of course, the extent to which defunding Planned Parenthood could serve as a talking point with midterm elections coming up.

Within days of the Axios report, Planned Parenthood, joined by the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association and ACLU, filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for jeopardizing the health of millions of low-income patients by diverting Title X funding to groups that prioritize the highly ineffective “rhythm method” over more comprehensive sexual health programs. Additionally, citing a controversial document by the HHS department which encourages people to avoid sexual risk-taking—or, in other words, avoid any sex prior to marriage—the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association identified this as a reflection of the Trump administration’s “narrow, ideological vision of how people should live their lives: no sex until marriage; family participation at all ages; and natural family planning methods first and foremost.”

It’s not presently clear what the Trump administration’s plans are in terms of defunding Planned Parenthood, but what is clear is that the administration isn’t above prioritizing ideology and pleasing their base over the health, safety, and freedoms of millions of Americans. Abstinence-only education provably increases teen pregnancy rates, the rhythm method is far more likely to result in unplanned pregnancy, and beyond how sexual and bodily decisions are the last thing the government should be dictating, the economy, public health, and greater equity for marginalized groups are all advanced by wider access to family planning resources and education. Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against the Trump administration is an important reminder of the organization’s role as not only a health care provider, but also a tireless advocate of equity in health care.

Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!

(Credit: Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com)

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