Reproductive Rights and Yesterday's Budget Release
President Obama yesterday released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2014. Here are five things you should know about how it affects reproductive rights:
Home Rule for the District of Columbia
As he has each year of his presidency, President Obama removed the D.C. abortion ban from his budget proposal. That ban prohibits the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised funds to pay for abortion care for low-income D.C. residents. By contrast, all other states are permitted to use non-federal revenues to pay for abortion care if they so choose.
For a brief period, low-income D.C. women had coverage after the House and Senate followed the president's lead and struck the rider from the fiscal year 2010 budget. In 2011, however, the D.C. ban was reinstated in a last-minute budget deal. It's been in place ever since.
Today's budget release indicates the administration's continued commitment to lifting this restriction and letting the District of Columbia make its own decisions.
Equity for Peace Corps Volunteers
Since 1979, every year Congress reauthorizes a ban prohibiting the Peace Corps from providing coverage of abortion care for its volunteers. Unlike other federal abortion restrictions, the Peace Corps ban has no exceptions—not even when a woman's life is endangered or she's the victim of sexual assault. Until last year, women who serve our country in the military and military dependents faced a similar ban on abortion coverage in cases of rape and incest, and the president's leadership was key to lifting it. This year, the president is using his budget proposal to stand up for Peace Corps volunteers and recommend Congress no longer withhold abortion coverage in certain dire circumstances.
Peace Corps volunteers deserve equity, fairness, and the same access to health care as other women in federal service. Women serving in the military, working for the federal government, and even stateside Peace Corps employees all have coverage for abortion care when their lives are endangered or they are victims of rape and incest. Bringing the treatment of women who volunteer in the Peace Corps up to the bare minimum standard afforded to other women in federal service is the very least we can do.
Other Abortion Coverage Restrictions
All women should be guaranteed the reproductive health care coverage they need, whatever the circumstance. Unfortunately, with the exception of the D.C. ban and the dire-circumstances exceptions to the Peace Corps ban, all abortion coverage restrictions remain in the president's proposed budget. Those restrictions withhold abortion coverage from women who are enrolled in Medicaid, employed by the federal government, receive care through Indian Health Services, and are detained in federal prisons (as well as from women who serve in the Peace Corps and from low-income women who live in the District of Columbia, as discussed above). These policies prevent women from being able to make real decisions about their own pregnancies, and they should all be rescinded.
Title X Funding
In non-abortion news, the president's budget proposes a sorely needed increase in funding for Title X, the federal family planning program. Title X-funded clinics provide comprehensive family planning services—including counseling, contraceptives, education, and preventive health screenings—to women and men who are otherwise unable to afford these basic healthcare services. Title X clinics have been cash-strapped, which means women and families have been suffering. Today's budget proposes $327 million dollars for Title X, an increase of $33 million over current funding.
The president's budget appropriately proposes cutting funding for discredited abstinence-only programs. These programs have been shown time and again to censor vital health care information, create a hostile environment for gay and lesbian teens, reinforce gender stereotypes, and in some instances use taxpayer dollars to promote a particular religious perspective. Scarce federal resources should go to programs that that will help young people make healthy, responsible decisions about their own sexual health.
The president took several important steps yesterday to protect women's health and dignity. Now it's up to Congress to make that progress real, and to the rest of us to keep pushing for more change.