For the past couple of years, no doubt wary of “war on women” messaging, Republicans have been in semi-retreat on chipping away at contraception access. We haven’t seen a revival of the attacks on contraception funding that helped nearly shut down the government in 2011. Those defending the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell focused on minimizing its impact, by incorrectly claiming it only affects some kinds of contraception. Some Republicans offered up a toothless bill supposedly meant to support making the birth control pill over-the-counter.
That’s all changed. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies just offered a budget proposal that would end federal family planning programs. “None of the funds appropriated in this Act may be used to carry out title X of the [Public Health Service] Act,” the bill reads. Title X is the only federal program dedicated solely to providing contraception and other preventive reproductive health services.
That’s right, they’re trying to zero out Title X—the only federal program that directly subsidizes contraception—as well as other reproductive health care programs for low-income patients. Affordable STI tests? The pack of $15 birth control pills you get from Planned Parenthood? The Pap smear you got at the public health clinic? They want to get rid of all of it.
“Cutting the Title X Family Planning program could leave nearly 4.6 million people without care, including women in rural communities and low-income women who rely on Planned Parenthood and other providers for high-quality, affordable care,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards argued in a statement. No doubt the word “abortion” is going to be tossed around to justify this defunding effort—just as it was in 2011—but this is not about abortion. By law, Title X funds do not and cannot fund abortion. This is about sex and sending the message that you shouldn’t be having it for any reason but procreation.
In case that wasn’t clear, the proposal also cuts spending on sex education programs for teenagers by 81 percent, while doubling the budget for abstinence-until-marriage programs. In 2002, only 5 percent of Americans waited until marriage to have sex, a number that has likely shrunk since then. More than 99 percent of women who have had sexual intercourse, whether married or not, have used contraception. This budget is pushing an idea of sexuality that has no relationship whatsoever to how actual Americans live their lives.
Research shows that programs that make contraception free or at least more affordable lower the abortion rate. If you sincerely care about preventing abortion, you should want to grow Title X so that no woman in this country skips using contraception because she can’t afford it. But this fight has never been about abortion. It’s about imposing a Victorian ideal of sexuality on women living in the 21st century.