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Posted by pocochina on January 28, 2009

[Okay.  I started this post yesterday, before the vote, so if there are any tense mistakes or predictions, oops, sorry.]

So.  Stimulus package.  No Republicans voted for it, still passed.  Remember this, for the part where Obama and Waxman blatantly sell out women’s health for absolutely no payoff from the Republicans.

Yes, Virginia, reproductive health care is inherent to economic stimulus.  It’s important as a microcosm of the way way that health care reform will be good for the economy – with fewer fixed costs, people can spend more freely.  As lots of others have pointed out, it’s a demand-side industry, and this would improve income for health care workers.  The provision would have simply helped cash-strapped state governments to do what they are already doing, rather than forcing them to reallocate funds from other necessary projects.  Removing the provision is bad policy.  Most importantly, though, allowing women to prevent and terminate pregnancies is critical to women’s economic situation.  It’s what lets us go to school, keep our jobs, and not end up dead in an alley.  I’m disgusted by the presumption that because women need something, it’s got nothing to do with economics.  Women earn money, children cost money, and low-income women are particularly vulnerable  to the fallout from an unwanted pregnancy.  It’s about dignity and human rights, but those things aren’t separate from economics.  This is about the ability the majority of people living in poverty to participate in the economy.

It’s also critically important to see that this isn’t just something that came out of the blue and steamrollered Obama.  He called Waxman and said “pull the funding.”  There’s a lot going on there.  First of all, it’s not exactly accurate to frame that as Republicans doing something wrong.  Yes, the Republicans manipulated and whined, but Obama is a grown goddamn man who made the decision to respond in the way he did.  And really?  Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, anti-woman bigots gotta piss and moan, and there was no way to fail to see Boehner’s pearl-clutching from a mile off.  The bill wasn’t just the place to put the funding because it’s important economically, it was the best way to ensure its passage without allowing an enormous misogyny-fest on a separate funding bill.  What, were that many Republicans really going to vote against an economic stimulus bill during a recess bagel over goddamn condoms?  And if they did,  they’d have to pay the piper in two years, making it that much easier to chip away a few more seats.  That matters not just in terms of raw numbers in Congress, but for women’s health specifically – raising the penalty for being a curmudeonly woman-hater might eventually lead to fewer curmudgeonly woman-haters in positions of power.  Which, for a super-feminist, should be a goal which is actively pursued, not whipped out when it’s convenient.

Remember, there’s a Democratic majority.  By a lot.  That win in November wasn’t just Obama’s big win, it was a huge increase in not one but two legislative Democratic majorities.  The stimulus passed even without all the Republicans and eleven Democrats.  Losing more than that would mean that the problem isn’t actually the contraceptive provisions, they’re just an expendable addition.

No.  The only rational explanation for the behavior here is two-fold that women’s health, livelihoods, and lives are something extra, and less important than having the chance of a show of bipartisanship.  There are 255 Democrats sitting in the House, and 178 Republicans.  That means Obama could have lost sixty Democrats, all the Republicans, and still gotten the stimulus bill through handily.  Just in case I have suddenly contracted acute subtlety:  the choice was not “ditch the family planning bill or lose the stimulus.”  It was  “have the chance for the appearance of bipartisanship, or have family planning for poor women,” and this White House made its choice.

Oooooh, but it’s not that simple, I hear you saying.   No, no it’s certainly not.  It’ s a multi-billion dollar stimulus package, with tons of different provisions.  But I certainly don’t recall any other provisions of the bill receiving this kind of negative attention from Republicans or the media, and I certainly don’t recall the White House publicly bending over backwards to accomodate the Republicans on any other provision of the bill.  Remember that plucky “I won” spirit for all the other important stuff?  Funny, how it vanished  as soon as it was time to lighten the health care burden on poor women.

This is a terrible framework for any real progress on reproductive justice.  Even if there was a real concern that the RH provisions could sink the stimulus bill – which would’ve turned out to be ill-founded  – the immediate and public concession on women’s health continued to show the country and the world that women’s health is always assumed to be negotiable and contentious.  No, it’s not the same as Chris Matthews’ ridiculous statement that somehow allowing people reproductive choice is the same thing as taking reproductive choice away from people, but it does allow that bullshit to pass and continue without comment.  This crap needs to be challenged.  Caving in on it under the slightest pressure isn’t challenging it, it’s legitimizing it.

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