The Government, Your Uterus, and You: New Laws in Arizona, Utah Affect Women’s Health

Posted on May 10, 2012

Yahoo! Shine, May 7, 2012 by Lylah M. Alphonse

It sounds like something that would expand access to family planning and women’s health services, but the Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act actually ends funding for cancer screenings, birth control, and HIV testing if they’re provided by an organization that also offers abortion services. That means Planned Parenthood, of course.

The new law, which Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed on Friday, stops any government entity (cities, counties, and the state itself) from giving money to Planned Parenthood and similar organizations, even though government funds are already not allowed to be used to pay for abortions. According to backers of the bill, the extra step of prohibiting something that’s already prohibited is necessary in order to make sure that state money provided for acceptable purposes doesn’t free up private funds for unacceptable ones.

“This is a common sense law that tightens existing state regulations and closes loopholes in order to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortions, whether directly or indirectly,” Brewer said in a statement. “By signing this measure into law, I stand with the majority of Americans who oppose the use of taxpayer funds for abortion.”

“This is an example of how politics and overheated rhetoric get in the way of common sense,” countered former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, Arizona’s Democratic candidate for senator, in a statement of his own. “As a doctor, I know that limiting care will lead to some predictable consequences for the health of women in our state. It’s an embarrassment that our career politicians are prioritizing their own personal politics over finding solutions that actually help people.”

Brewer signed the Whole Woman’s Health Act during a reception for Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that says it’s dedicated to defunding Planned Parenthood. In April, she signed a law banning abortions after 20 weeks gestation — and redefined life as beginning, not at conception, but two weeks before egg and sperm meet.

Former Republican Representative Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, who is the vice president of government affairs for SBA List, praised Brewer for being “a consistent and bold advocate for Life,” adding in a statement that “Planned Parenthood’s abortion-centered business model does not need or deserve taxpayer dollars.”

But according to Planned Parenthood, abortions account for about 3 percent of the services they provide. Data from 2009 shows that 35 percent of their patients received contraception, 35 percent received testing or treatment for sexually transmitted infections, 16 percent underwent cancer screenings, and 11 percent went there for “other women’s health services,” including primary care.

About 10 percent of patients — about 4,000 women — at the Planned Parenthood’s 14 health centers in Arizona use Medicaid to get birth control pills. That means that blocking funding in the name of preventing abortion only affects women who weren’t seeking abortions to begin with. “We are most concerned about the women and men who could be forced to go without health care as a result of this bill,” Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, said in a statement.

There were no estimates as to how much money Planned Parenthood will lose, Reuters reported. Kansas, North Carolina, Texas, Indiana, New Jersey, and Wisconsin have similar laws in place, but Indiana, Kansas, and North Carolina are facing legal battles because of them.

In Texas, a law that excluded Planned Parenthood from that state’s federally funded women’s health care program by prohibiting state agencies from giving money to the women’s health organization was ruled unconstitutional last week. The New York Times reported that Texas officials have said that they would rather shut down their Women’s Health Program and leave 130,000 low-income women without access to health care than give state money to Planned Parenthood clinics, even though the eight clinics affected do not provide abortion services.

Utah, which already has in place an unenforceable and unconstitutional law that makes providing abortion a felony, isn’t going after abortion providers this time. Instead, they’re targeting the patients: The state last week passed HB 461, which mandates a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can have an abortion. The law goes into effect on Tuesday.

No other state in the nation a waiting period of more than 24 hours, but Republican Representative Steve Eliason, who sponsored the Utah bill, says that women need more time to “consider all of the information that is given to them when facing a life-altering decision that somebody else is making money off of.”

“I think it’s a positive change for women and children,” Eliason told the Salt Lake Tribune. “At the end of the day, it’s a consumer-protection law.”

Consumer-protection laws that only apply to the ladies? Addressing abortion by threatening to take away health services for women who aren’t seeking one? Laws that prohibit things that are already prohibited? It’s almost as if lawmakers have run out of things to legislate, so they’re just drafting bills that reinforce their own personal beliefs to pass the time.