2012-03-07 15:39:07

Sandra Fluke and the birth control divide

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On Monday, Sandra Fluke, Georgetown Law student and embattled advocate for contraceptive access went on The View to discuss the vile and vitriolic comments made about her by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh. We’ll have more coverage later today about Sandra and this story but there’s one element of her interview that I want to draw attention to.

Right at the end of this clip, Fluke reminds us, pointedly, that her testimony was not about federal coverage for contraception. She was talking about Georgetown University’s private health care plan. This young woman is an eloquent and passionate advocate for women’s health, that much is clear. But the way she, and many others who talk about contraceptive coverage, differentiate private (as less controversial) and federal (as more controversial) funding is highly problematic and dangerous. Here’s why:

Talking about the value and importance of women’s health care in the context of who’s paying for it further solidifies the idea that taxpayers should get to veto health care procedures that they disapprove of. When advocates for access to contraception, abortion and any other women’s health service make a point of saying that they’re talking about private funding dollars and not federal dollars, as Fluke did, they reinforce the idea that there it’s more controversial to use federal money for reproductive health care.

This divide, between federal funding and private insurance companies including birth control, creates a very problematic class distinction between who should have access to the full range of reproductive health care. And when folks say, “Oh, this isn’t about government dollars!” they are saying that women who rely on the government for their health care could legitimately have their choices restricted because they are poor, or in the military, or otherwise rely on the government for health care.

Nevermind the compelling argument about pregnancy prevention actually being a fiscally responsible service for the government to provide, this is a moral issue, to my mind. It is a long standing issue with the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal dollars from providing women on Medicaid with abortion care, and it reared it’s head during our health health care reform debate about abortion. It also has potentially dangerous implications for Title X funding, which offers funding for family planning to clinics around the country.

So when exasperated advocates for birth control access boldly assert that this isn’t about tax dollars, they are doing a grave disservice to those women who rely on federal money for health care. These are poor women, and disproportionately women of color. It’s time to stop throwing these women under the bus in an effort to placate folks that think federal money shouldn’t be used for reproductive health care. That’s not reproductive rights, it does not fully support reproductive choice, it’s a short-sighted strategy and I would argue it’s not a feminist position at all.

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