Reproductive justice and the stimulus

By Michelle Chen Jan 27, 2009

A few days ago, the Obama administration raised hopes about a more equitable reproductive health policy by lifting the so-called “global gag rule.” But on the domestic front, the new White House is retrenching on reproductive justice, hoping to avoid Republican backlash. Conservatives have blasted a provision in the stimulus proposal to shore up funding for Medicaid-based family planning programs. "How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives?" asked Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). "How does that stimulate the economy?" The rhetoric exposes the disconnect between the political establishment and the race and class realities many women face in their communities. Step back from the Beltway potshots, and it’s easy to see a link between socioeconomic and racial equity and the freedom to make responsible choices about pregnancy. Amanda Marcotte at RHRealitycheck analyzes Boehner’s anti-contraception crusade—and detects the familiar subtext of blaming and caricaturing the poor and people of color:

“It’s a sad commentary on this country that Boehner’s strategy to kick up dust over this stimulus package works. While a solid part of the country gets that money spent on Medicaid-based contraception goes directly to preventing unplanned pregnancy and probably doesn’t effect the amount of boot-knocking going on, unfortunately another solid group of Americans gets no further than thinking, ‘Some poor people are doing it on my dime!’, and therefore immediately goes into the obstruct-and-punish zone. Racism absolutely inspires Boehner’s attempts. The mainstream media face of your average Medicaid recipient is a black face, even though the majority of Medicaid recipients are white. “

A recent report form the Guttmacher Institute points out that while government programs have led to significant improvements in reproductive health services for low-income people and people of color, intense gaps persist.

“The root causes of these disparities are manifold: a long history of discrimination, too few educational and professional opportunities for disadvantaged groups and unequal access to safe, clean neighborhoods, just to name a few. There are no easy solutions to these complex challenges. Innovative strategies—looking at empowering individuals, ongoing cross-cultural education of providers, access to and quality of care, and efforts to reduce entrenched poverty and improve education—will all have to be part of the longer-term approach. … "Addressing social and economic disparities is critical to reproductive health. At the same time, empowering women and couples to decide if and when to have a child and enabling them to have a healthy pregnancy and baby are critical to achieving social justice.”

For now, however, Democrats seem to be backing off family planning in order to grease up the massive stimulus bill. And in light of the economic crisis ahead, that might be the most politically expedient option. But the move sets back activists who had hoped to push forward the national discussion on reproductive justice.