The GOP War on Poor Women's Health

06/29/2015 04:57 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016

Being both poor and a woman is not easy. Add to that a constant barrage of attacks on your reproductive health, and you've got a nearly impossible situation. Yet, it's something that millions of American women are forced to endure every minute of every hour of every day. And let's not sugarcoat it: The GOP are to blame.

They're to blame for financially draining (and now possibly eliminating) the Title X (ten) low-income family planning program; they're to blame for mandating costly waiting periods for abortion; and they're to blame for allowing employers to opt out of providing Affordable Care Act-mandated insurance coverage for birth control. And the list goes on and on.

If their actions are any indication, Republicans are waging a war on the health and wellbeing of poor women. Why the GOP wants to launch David-versus-Goliath-style attacks on one of our nation's most vulnerable populations is unclear. But what is clear is that it's cruel, it's unjust, and it's life threatening.

A woman living below the poverty line is five times more inclined to experience an unintended pregnancy than a woman in the highest income bracket, and is likely to slip even further into poverty after having an unplanned pregnancy.

A 2011 study found that hundreds of thousands of people in the United States die from poverty-related causes every year. Meaning, the lives of low-income women are put in peril when they are prevented from breaking out of poverty due to a lack of access to affordable birth control, abortion care, and other crucial family planning services.

Add to this the fact that poor women are already at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and dying from cervical and breast cancer, and it becomes obvious that reproductive health care is not some frivolous benefit; it's a lifesaving necessity. But the GOP doesn't seem to care.

Just this month, Republicans in both the House and the Senate voted to eliminate federal funding for the only program in the entire country that provides family planning services to low-income people. Title X helps nearly five million individuals get access to cancer screenings, birth control, well-woman visits, and many other essential health care services. Yet, the GOP has decided to squash it; they've decided that saving the lives of poor women is an optional line item in the budget.

Free birth control shouldn't be an issue, though, right? Wrong. Republicans don't like that either and have made repeated attempts to gut the Affordable Care Act mandate requiring employer-based insurance plans to cover contraception without a copay. Their biggest win to date was last year's Hobby Lobby ruling, which allows employers to use religion as an excuse to deny women birth control coverage. Now, a low-income woman's ability to prevent an unplanned pregnancy can be held hostage by her very own boss. Because paying the copay fee is just not possible for many women living below the poverty line.

The GOP has also been ramping up their attacks on abortion. Their latest tactic, mandatory waiting periods, is an especially cruel one. These policies make women wait at least 24 hours between consulting with an abortion doctor and legally terminating their pregnancies. It's more than an emotional nightmare; the extra costs associated with additional trips, child care, and other logistical challenges make it a financial burden--one that many poor women simply cannot afford.

But preventing low-income women from accessing abortions is actually an age-old Republican tale. It's called the Hyde Amendment, one of the most despicable pieces of legislation to ever exist. Passed in 1976 by Congressman Henry Hyde (a Republican), the Hyde Amendment made abortion the first and only medical procedure to be banned from Medicaid coverage. And for 39 years now, poor women have had to take insufferable measures -- like selling belongings, cutting down on eating to save money, or obtaining unsafe, illegal abortions -- in order to end unplanned pregnancies.

Unfortunately, however, the GOP war on poor women's health is not only being waged in the homeland; it's being waged overseas too. Republicans in Congress have remained committed to draining U.S. aid from international family planning programs and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), thereby putting the lives of millions of women in developing countries, who depend on these critical reproductive health services, at risk.

Which makes me wonder: How many more poor women have to die from cervical cancer, clandestine abortions, or unintended pregnancies before the GOP realizes that their actions affect more than just a political agenda? When will they realize that the lives of all women, everywhere, are valuable and worth protecting?