The Pence Amendment: Waging War on the Poor – The Feminist Wire

The Pence Amendment: Waging War on the Poor

By Ulli K. Ryder

Is there a “war on women?” Does the recent amendment to deny federal funding for Planned Parenthood signal a concerted attack on females in this country? I am not so sure.

Certainly, as Planned Parenthood offers services such as contraception, pap smears, HIV/AIDS testing and mammograms to women, it appears that The Pence Amendment is targeting women. Yet Planned Parenthood also supplies contraception, cancer screenings and HIV/AIDS testing for men. They also provide General Healthcare, listed on their website as: anemia testing, cholesterol screening, diabetes screening, physical exams (including for employment and sports), flu vaccines, help with quitting smoking, high blood pressure screening, tetanus vaccines and thyroid screening. These are not healthcare issues that face women alone.

Much of the debate centers on abortion funding.  Federal funds cannot be used for abortions. While Planned Parenthood does receive federal money, that money is not spent on abortions services.  Instead, federal money funds the 97% of Planned Parenthood’s work that has nothing to do with abortion. Opponents of Planned Parenthood argue that money is “fungible,” that is, it can be moved around, hidden or used for purposes it was not intended.  The immediate question that arises then is not whether Planned Parenthood misuses federal money but why the federal government is incapable of overseeing money it provides?

If our government is so incompetent that it cannot determine how it spends our money, perhaps we should call for an end to funding anything until the government gets its act together. And we should start with the largest expenditures. Planned Parenthood gets $317 million plus money from Title X every year.  As of September 2010 we have spent $1.09 trillion to wage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Does our government know how all that money was spent? Did any of it go to people or services not officially approved by Congress? We know that billions of dollars have been lost due to misspending. Has the Republican House demanded that we immediately stop funding these wars?

What happens if we approach this debate by letting go of the two seemingly false assumptions, that 1) this debate is solely about women and that 2) federal funding is used to support abortion?  What we are left with is the conclusion that the Pence Amendment is targeting an organization that provides healthcare to poor, under-insured and uninsured men and women. In an era of deep recession, the number of people who fall into this category is enormous, growing, and include those of all races/ethnicities and both genders. To call this an “attack on women” fails to acknowledge the far-reaching implications of cutting Planned Parenthood funding.

Without access to healthcare, men and women will suffer needlessly from curable and treatable diseases. Without contraception – for men and women – more unwanted babies will be born to parents unable to care for them.  We know what happens then: infants are found in dumpsters; children die of neglect or abuse; the foster care system is overwhelmed; and we swell the ranks of the underclass, perpetuating the system indefinitely.

Those who claim to value life seem not to value quality of life. Life for life’s sake and bringing children into a world unwilling or unable to care for them, are not signs of valuing life. Allowing sexually active adults to take responsible action to limit the chance of unwanted pregnancies, STD transmission and life-threatening illness is the clearest way to demonstrate the value of human life. That is why the attack on Planned Parenthood is not simply an attack on women.  It is an attack on us all.


Ulli K. Ryder, Ph.D. is an award-winning educator, consultant, writer, editor and thinker.  She facilitates discussions of gender, race, ethnicity, identity formation and media to foster diversity and create open dialogue.

Her expertise has been sought by institutions such as the University of Southern California, the University of California – Los Angeles, Loyola Marymount University, the University of Rhode Island, Simmons College, Emerson College and Brown University. She has been a Visiting Scholar at Brown University since 2009.

Dr. Ryder earned her Ph.D. in American Studies & Ethnicity from the University of Southern California.  She also holds a Master of Professional Writing (USC), a Master of Afro-American Studies (UCLA) and BA from Simmons College in English and African American Studies.