Last week, the Michigan House appropriations committee voted to approve a budget that includes a staggering $201.4 million cut to community health funding. Among a multitude of other preventive health services, the budget will eliminate all state funding currently available for family planning. At a time when Michigan’s overwhelmingly conservative state government is also poised to enact several new restrictions on abortion access, these deep cuts to community health services serve as the perfect example of “pro-life” legislators who value the life of a fetus only until it’s born.
Every life is precious…Except for the lives of low-income people who rely on state assistance for health care. There is an obvious irony in simultaneously restricting access to abortion and to the means of preventing pregnancy in the first place. The message seems to be that if you are a poor person—especially a poor woman, disproportionately more likely to also be a woman of color—your sexuality is inherently problematic. You aren’t entitled to STI screenings. You won’t receive any assistance in preventing pregnancy. If you do become pregnant, however, the state will do all it can to prevent you from receiving an abortion, and to shame you for choosing abortion when and if you do manage to obtain one. If you continue a pregnancy—whether by choice or by coercion—you will be criticized for having a child “you can’t afford.” You will be labeled a “welfare mother” and a “drain on the system,” even though the state is also slashing funding to the assistance programs that would help you care for your family (while giving massive tax breaks to corporations). If you are employed, most of your income will be drained by childcare, leaving you in no less need of financial assistance. And if you work long, exhausting hours in a desperate attempt to provide for your children, you’re likely to be criticized for that as well, labeled a negligent parent. In other words: you can’t win.
The privileged classes, meanwhile, are free to continue having sex with the knowledge that they can access STI prevention and treatment, they are in a position to make a variety of reproductive choices, and they will be socially commended rather than condemned if they choose to have children. This is not by any means intended to imply that women with class and/or race privilege have it easy. Patriarchy is alive and well, and society continues to police the sexuality and the reproductive choices of all women. But the bodies of poor women are policed the most extremely of all. Their only socially- sanctioned sexual option appears to be abstinence. This stance assumes that all women are always in a position to actually make decisions about whether or not to be sexually active, an assumption which is unfortunately false. But beyond that, it also treats healthy, safe sex as a luxury.
All people deserve access to STI screening, prevention, and treatment. All people deserve reproductive freedom, including the freedom to have children. And all people deserve those things without judgment. The availability of sexual and reproductive health services is vital to the well being of all humans; the rallying of support behind Planned Parenthood when their funding was threatened illustrates how firmly our nation’s people recognize these services as a basic need. Now, it has become necessary for many of us to defend those services at the state level as well. The battle for reproductive rights—especially for the most vulnerable among us—remains far from over.