It is always arresting when a woman speaks of an experience she has been taught to keep hidden. When Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, stood up Thursday to tell the House of Representatives that she had terminated a pregnancy at 17 weeks because her baby had moved into her cervix - a wrenching, painful decision - it was a powerful moment.
She had not expected to speak of it, she said, until she heard a male colleague talk about women having abortions, which, she said, put her "stomach in knots": "That procedure that you just talked about was a procedure that I endured. I lost a baby. For you to stand on this floor and to suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous."
Yet, the next day, in an astonishingly retrograde step, a sizable majority of the House - which is 83 percent male - voted to stop funding Planned Parenthood, an organization that has helped one in five American women access birth control, use contraception, and have Pap smears, safe-sex and fertility counseling, as well as checks for cervical and breast cancer. Most of its work, with three million Americans each year, is preventive: Only a small fraction of visits are for abortions. And federal funding is never used for abortions. The suggested cuts would deny women access to basic health care and, alarmingly, contraception.
After the vote, women flocked to Twitter to thank Planned Parenthood for what it had done for them: detecting a tumor in a uterus, catching cervical cancer in time, and offering free condoms, cheap vasectomies for husbands, prenatal care, and STD tests. Many who were uninsured thanked the organization for providing health care when they had nowhere else to go.
"As for me," wrote one woman, Jeanne Brookes, "when I was unemployed, uninsured, and had an infection, Planned Parenthood treated me for $25 when the treatment should have cost over $300. I took the $300 I saved and bought a plane ticket to interview for what would become my first job in D.C."
An assault on this basic medical care demonstrates ignorance of the importance of contraception and lack of respect for the dignity and independence of women. This vote is a victory for the likes of Kermit Gosnell, those who prey on the defenselessness of women seeking reproductive health care who are poor, often young, and mostly black. About 65 percent of the Planned Parenthood clientele is low-income.
Our local chapter of Planned Parenthood was established in 1929, when 15 percent of women who died in childbirth did so because of botched abortions. Only those with money and good social standing could get the best contraception - diaphragms at the time - which meant many poor women relied on abortions. Is this where we want to be?
Last year, 49,000 people went to the South East Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood clinics for a total of 63,000 STD tests, more than 25,000 Pap tests, 13,000 screenings for cervical cancer, 14,000 breast exams, 17,000 doses of emergency contraception, and yes, 11,000 abortions.
Linda Gordon, professor of history at New York University, said she believed Friday's vote was "the most intense backlash against women since the 1870s." "This would mostly damage poor women," she said.
The vote was certainly a triumph of twisted logic. It will not protect women; it will make them less safe. It is not for parenthood, but against it. And it was not about preventing abortions, because Planned Parenthood does not use federal funding for abortions. The most certain result of denying women access to family planning is more unwanted pregnancies.
Why get steamed up about this when the measure is unlikely to pass the Senate? On the surface, the vote is just wasting time, but it also adds weight to the increasingly vocal, national, and irrational campaign against Planned Parenthood, which is being falsely and bizarrely accused of supporting sex trafficking. Such attacks make it vulnerable as budget cuts are made. Several states are threatening to curtail women's access to reproductive-health services - South Dakota was considering making the murder of abortion providers "justifiable homicide."
It is not just that it is offensive to keep funding NASCAR but not women's health; when so many people are without homes, jobs, and a future, it is just wrong to be forced once again to ask if we value the lives of women.
Contact Julia Baird at email@example.com.