Women's Lives (Should) Matter!

04/13/2015 02:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2015
Ellen Shaffer

The campaign to eliminate the right to safe, legal abortions is intentional, relentless and political. The consequences are real, personal and frightening. Attacks on abortion rights further entrench discrimination against women, and erode our national commitment to social and economic justice.

We must demand accountability from the politicians who claim to represent us and the pundits who influence the public debate. Our failure to speak out will encourage increasingly aggressive attacks.

Last week, still reeling from a campaign of national revulsion that forced Indiana to retreat from an anti-LGBT law, the state shifted its sites to a more vulnerable target: pregnant women. The state imposed a 20-year jail sentence on Purvi Patel, claiming that what she claimed was a miscarriage constituted "feticide."

We must challenge the Senate to exert leadership in the coming weeks as it prepares for debate on H.R. 2, and on the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), a bill intended to protect the victims of sex-trade trafficking.

H.R. 2 passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House late in March. It offers a compromise on a long unpopular but seemingly intractable Medicare formula for paying doctors. The bill would also extend funding for children's health insurance and community health centers. There is pressure to move quickly in the Senate, to avoid triggering a 20 percent pay cut for the MDs. (Sound familiar?)

But H.R. 2 includes a ban on federal funds for abortion. Including at community health centers. Congress has rubber-stamped similar funding bans in the past, referred to as the Hyde amendment, via annual appropriations bills. This is no longer acceptable. The immediate victims are low-income women and their families, and people of color, who are five times more likely to experience unintended pregnancies and childbirths, and are increasingly caught in the vise of state and federal laws constraining access to safe, legal abortions, as well as reduced social and financial support for families. The stigma against abortion blights all women, and society as a whole.

The abortion funding restriction is also included in the proposed Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), intended to protect the victims of sex-trade trafficking. Faced with demands to drop this provision, anti-abortion Senators are underscoring their priorities by holding hostage passage of this bill, as well as confirmation of the President's nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, unless this restriction is included.

Leaders and advocates for vulnerable communities can no longer tolerate or minimize this dangerous divide and conquer strategy. Our strength must rely on our shared, united interests in children's health insurance, community health centers, fair Medicare reimbursement policies, and abortion rights and reproductive justice.

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has said, this is "one battle that we can win... I see it as standing up for principle. And you know principle doesn't know minority and majority; principle is deeply held."