After all, if you’re like the 99 % of sexually active women in the U.S. who use contraceptives, you're probably aware that using birth control puts you at risk for being called a slut and a prostitute on national radio. (Though it’s nice to know that since Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke he’s lost 49 of his advertisers and counting.)
But Rush clearly isn't alone in his desire to undermine women’s health.
We all remember back in February when U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Eleanor Holmes Norton walked out of a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing because there were no women included on the panel of witnesses discussing limiting contraception for women. “Where are the women?” asked Maloney before walking out. She had asked that Sandra Fluke testify at that hearing, but Fluke was rejected because Fluke wasn’t qualified to talk about “religious liberty,” as opposed to, say, her liberty as a human being to control her own body, I suppose.
It’s little wonder that women’s rights are coming under attack in America. At the federal level one of the largest attacks is on Title X, the nation’s family planning program, signed into law by President Nixon in 1970. While some Title X money goes towards birth control – which is clearly what some people have a problem with - it also, "provides money for cervical and breast cancer screening, testing for H.I.V and other sexually transmitted diseases, adolescent abstinence counseling, infertility counseling and other services." It does not fund abortions. However, current federal legislation seeks to completely defund Title X -- leaving the 5 million low-income people who rely on it, with no options to protect their own health.
And at the state level it gets even worse. In addition to state legislatures throughout the country voting to stop funding of important programs like breast cancer screenings (see today’s New York Times article about Texas,) and cutting their family planning budgets until they barely exist, eliminating services for hundreds of thousands of women – now their legal rights are under attack.
Yesterday, the Arizona State Senate passed a bill that would ban something called “wrongful birth” lawsuits.
“Wrongful birth” lawsuits arise when “physicians don’t inform pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead to the decision to have an abortion.” In other words, this bill would give doctors immunity for failing to give medical information about a patient’s health or the health of her fetus.
In 2011 a Florida couple won a wrongful birth lawsuit, when their son was born with no arms and only one leg – something that the parents believed should have been noticed on the ultrasound. The jury agreed and awarded them $4.5 million – money the couple said would greatly assist their son throughout his lifetime – so the family need not rely exclusively on taxpayers to care for their child.
Despite cases like this, the Arizona bill’s sponsor, Nancy Barto, does not believe that failing to inform a patient of this information constitutes malpractice and says that the bill “will still allow ‘true malpractice suits’ to proceed.” The bill still has to go to the House, but Arizona is not the first state to consider this type of law, and it won’t be the last.
Kansas lawmakers introduced such a bill in February and the Governor has already agreed to sign it. Among other things the measures would “shield doctors against lawsuits if they do not inform patients of problems in pregnancies.”
The following states already prohibit wrongful birth claims: Idaho, Utah, South Dakota, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia.
The only good news is that women are fighting back by offering amendments that would also insert the government, just as uncomfortably, into a man’s private reproductive health decisions. Examples include:
- Virginia state Senator Janet Howell who “formally suggested that men should be required to get a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before they could obtain medicine for erectile dysfunction.”
- Oklahoma state Senator Constance Johnson who “proposed that the only place men should ever be allowed to ejaculate is into vaginas.”
- Georgia Representative Yasmin Neal who “suggested an amendment that would ban men from getting vasectomies.” Neal stated, “It is patently unfair that men can avoid unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly, while women’s ability to decide is constantly up for debate throughout the United States.”