Senate Republicans failed yesterday to advance a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, but their crusade against the organization and others like it is far from over. Speaking in support of the legislation she sponsored, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said the Planned Parenthood videos have “shaken the moral compass of our country.” But given that members of the “pro-life” party are willing to shut down the government over reproductive health access even as they ignore and exacerbate the actual crises that threaten our families and communities, we must question the alignment of the compass they’re following.
The video saga has now been proven to be complete nonsense. Two state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. Planned Parenthood is not, as the video’s editors portrayed, harvesting fetal tissue for profit, and their donation of such tissue and their compensation for related costs is, it turns out, perfectly legal. In fact, some of the senators leading this crusade (including Mitch McConnell) signed the very piece of 1993 legislation that legalized tissue donation. There are a number of issues shaking the moral compass of this country, but Planned Parenthood is not one of them.
Child poverty should shake our moral compass. Today, 22 percent of all children live in poverty, including 40 percent of Black children, and almost half live in low-income families. The U.S. child poverty rate is higher than all but one other OECD country. Poor children are more likely to drop out and perform poorly in school, to have developmental delays, and to experience behavioral, physical, and socioemotional problems. Yet conservatives still love to hate on the safety net programs that help keep these kids and their families afloat. In recent years, they have threated to cut funding for SNAP (food stamps) and WIC (the supplemental nutrition program that serves nearly 10 million low-income women and children) and have opposed legislation that would make it more affordable for low-income kids to go to college.
Maternal mortality should shake our moral compass. Today, more U.S. women die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes than at almost any point in the last 25 years, and the U.S. is one of only seven countries to see its maternal mortality rate increase over the last decade. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, and in some communities experience a maternal mortality rate equal to that in some Sub-Saharan African countries. But instead of expanding access to quality, affordable, and comprehensive health care, conservatives are busy closing clinics that predominantly serve women of color, low-income women, and young women. They remain steadfast in their refusal to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which would extend coverage and care to millions more low-income women. And they are still intent on repealing the ACA in its entirety, despite the fact that it has brought coverage to more than 16 million individuals.
Structural racism should shake our moral compass. The conservatives accusing Planned Parenthood of devaluing human life have been pretty quiet on the systemic violence and discrimination against communities of color. Where’s the outrage over Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, and the countless others who have died at the hands of law enforcement? Where’s the outrage from the supposed “pro-family” party over the school-to-prison pipeline that has torn apart families and communities across the country? Where’s the outrage over our imbalanced and unjust criminal justice system? Where is the space for these lives under the conservative pro-life umbrella?
Pay inequity should shake our moral compass. The gender pay gap in the United States is alive and well, with women still making 78 percent of the earnings of white men (Black and Latina women make 64 and 56 percent, respectively). This gap results in a significant loss of income for women and their families over the life cycle and contributes to the high rates of poverty among women and single mothers as well as children. If equal pay were realized, it would mean a raise for nearly 60 percent of U.S. women and two-thirds of single mothers. The increase in earnings would expand access to health care, food and housing security, and educational opportunities, and would have countless long-term benefits for children. But GOP senators have voted four times since 2012 to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier for employees to identify and address pay inequities. They are also consistently opposed to raising the minimum wage, a move that would benefit more than one-fifth of all children in the United States.
Income inequality—today greater than at any point since the Great Depression—should shake our moral compass. Thanks to our broken economic rules, the incomes of the top 1 percent increased by as much as 200 percent over the past 30 years while the net worth of the poorest Americans has decreased and stagnant wages and increased debt have pushed more middle-class families into poverty. After the 2008 recession, millions of Americans lost their homes, their jobs and their health care, and they are still struggling to regain their footing. The vast majority of Americans now believe a middle-class lifestyle is well beyond their reach. Yet conservatives continue to support the very policies that got us here in the first place: tax cuts for the wealthy; the erosion of unions and labor protections; and corporate structures that encourage a short-term focus on stock prices instead of long-term investments in growth and innovation.
The inability of individuals to access basic health services should shake our moral compass. Conservatives insist their efforts would not actually impact health access, because Planned Parenthood’s funding would simply be reallocated to other providers. But there are not actually enough providers to fill the void that would be left by Planned Parenthood. As Senator Patty Murray said, “you can’t pour a bucket of water into a cup.” Even with Planned Parenthood and the gains of the ACA, conservative laws have left women across this country reeling. We need more Planned Parenthoods and more of their sister clinics, not fewer.
Conservatives insist they care about the health of women and their families, but their actions indicate otherwise. They have proposed the elimination of Title X, the nation’s only program dedicated to providing family planning care and services. They are threatening—for the third time in four years—to shut down the federal government over reproductive health funding. They continue to support legislation that is closing clinics across the country, cutting access not only to abortion but also to basic preventive health services. The list goes on. This party is more interested in advancing its antiquated, harmful agenda than it is in the health of women—and men, young people, immigrants, trans folks, and low-income families—who rely on Planned Parenthood and other such providers. Their moral compass needs a good shaking up.
Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter at @dreaflynn.