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What a Republican Future Would Mean for Women’s Health

What a Republican Future Would Mean for Women’s Health

Emilie Openchowski explains why the Republican platform and recent controversy surrounding abortion rights and women’s health are troubling indications of the party’s ultimate objectives.

Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa. (AP/ Charles Dharapak)
Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa. (AP/ Charles Dharapak)

Last week at the 2012 Republican National Convention, the party made its official stance on women’s health perfectly clear: Outlawing abortion is much more important than protecting a woman’s fundamental right to quality, affordable health care, her ability to have a safe pregnancy, and her access to family planning.

By writing and approving what many—and even some on the right—are calling “the most conservative platform in modern history,” the Republican party has closely and undeniably aligned itself with the most conservative elements of its supporters. Aside from the steps backward that the platform takes on gay rights, immigration reform, gun control, and tax reform, the attacks on women’s rights generally and access to abortion specifically show that the party is continuing to embrace an extreme agenda. In a country where 55 million women are registered to vote—a number growing at a rate of about 1 million per year—the question is how far out of touch that agenda might be this year.

The most discussed detail of the platform (in terms of women’s rights) is the position that a human life amendment needs to be added to the U.S. Constitution. This action would make abortion illegal under any circumstances—no exceptions whatsoever—and is widely unpopular with the vast majority of all Americans. In fact, only 13 percent of Americans, and just 20 percent of those who identify themselves as Republicans, believe there should be an all-out ban on abortion of this scope and magnitude.

The platform similarly endorses federal “legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children,” which would make an embryo or fetus the legal equal of its mother and would grant it a legal right to be gestated and born, even in the case of danger to the mother’s life. The platform also supports “the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life”—code for a commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, among other things.

The Republican platform goes on to acknowledge and praise “the many States that have passed laws for informed consent [and] mandatory waiting periods prior to an abortion.” This should come as no surprise, considering the head of the platform committee, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, supported a law in his state requiring invasive transvaginal ultrasounds prior to getting an abortion. (The law that ended up passing in Virginia requires an abdominal ultrasound instead, regardless of medical necessity.)

In contrast, the Democratic National Party Platform for 2012 pledges to uphold Roe v. Wade, supports “a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion,” and argues that “there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way” of a woman’s decision to get an abortion. The position that politicians should not be making extremely personal health care decisions on behalf of women is one that President Barack Obama promoted following the controversy surrounding Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) comments regarding “legitimate rape.”

In addition to promoting abortion restrictions and bans, the Republican platform opposes “using public revenues to … fund organizations which perform or advocate [abortion].” What this means is that the party is continuing its diatribe to defund Planned Parenthood and threaten funding for Title X family planning clinics. Because these entities are already prohibited from using federal dollars to cover abortion care for their patients, this policy would deny government funding for breast cancer screenings, prenatal care, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and other basic, reproductive health care services.

The Democratic platform, on the other hand, pledges full support for family planning services by continuing “to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers.” It also recognizes that these facilities educate men and women on their sexual health and well-being and enables those individuals and couples to prevent and plan pregnancies, which in turn can “help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.”

It was not enough, however, for the Republican platform to pledge an end to these vital women’s health services and programs. It also promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which makes health care—including maternity care and preventive services for women such as mammograms, Pap smears, and contraception—available and affordable for women across the country. Obamacare has helped women in numerous ways since being enacted, at a minimum by ensuring that women don’t get charged higher premiums than men for the exact same coverage for no reason other than gender. If the law is, in fact, repealed, all of the progress that has been made to increase access and affordability of health care in this country will be erased.

Taken together, the message in the official Republican party platform for women is clear: Your access to care and ability to have a safe, healthy pregnancy is not as important as the desire to ban abortion and family planning services. In one fell swoop, the party has shown its determination to cut women off from the vital programs, services, and protections that all of us deserve.

For a party that is so focused on individual liberty and not letting politicians make decisions for us, its platform certainly does not embody those values—at least not when it comes to women making health decisions about their own bodies.

Emilie Openchowski is an Assistant Editor at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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Emilie Openchowski

Assistant Managing Editor