News & Politics

Scott Walker's All-Out War on Wisconsin Women

Scott Walker's budget is the latest to slash health funding for women--showing that the war on workers and the war on women are intertwined.

This May, a man was apprehended in Madison, Wisconsin, for allegedly plotting to open fire at a Planned Parenthood health center. He was, it seemed, aiming to target a doctor who, in his words, would be “killing babies.” The incident was disturbing, but in a way, it was a prelude for another fatal move in the state capital. With a swipe of his pen, Governor Scott Walker launched a frontal assault on about 12,000 women across the state.

Wisconsin's new budget puts Walker's regime in lockstep with lawmakers in North Carolina, South Dakota and Kansas who have tried to defund reproductive health programs. The Wisconsin budget slashes funding for Planned Parenthood health centers by targeting state and federal money for family planning. The move is projected to effectively shut down nine of 27 Planned Parenthood health centers in Wisconsin. Walker's move, as well as those in other states, shows that the current war on workers and the war on women are closely linked.

The fiscal warfare against women's health centers goes well beyond Wisconsin. An Indiana court recently struck down a similar anti-abortion bill aimed at Planned Parenthood, on the grounds that it would violate Medicaid regulations. South Dakota legislation to deter abortions through a mandatory waiting period was also blocked. Other court challenges are pending in Kansas and Montana. And Walker's budget axe takes aim at much more than just women's bodies. Indeed, though it's sure to score points with his base, Walker's budget is really a blunt weapon in the culture war, since Planned Parenthood's primary business isn't abortion, anyway.

So the Wisconsin's legislation's most acute impact won't merely be stopping much-needed abortions, but will go far beyond: preventing women from obtaining critical health care in general. While Republicans posture themselves against the “abortion industry,” the health centers under threat provide women with comprehensive health care and family planning services that many would never be able to afford otherwise. The branches of Wisconsin Planned Parenthood that receive public funding don't provide abortions, in compliance with longstanding draconian funding regulations both in Wisconsin and on the federal level via the much maligned Hyde Amendment, reproductive rights advocates have been mobilizing against for decades.

Tanya Atkinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, said Walker's budget would only exacerbate the health-care crisis facing women across the state--and that the existing infrastructure is not equipped to replace Planned Parenthood's strong services.

“The county health departments in each county where a Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin health center will lose funds have gone on record saying they cannot absorb the 12,000 patients we care for,” she said, referring to a query by State Rep. Terese Berceau.

Addressing women's health needs just got even tougher under another anti-abortion budget item aimed at University of Wisconsin-affiliated hospitals and clinics. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the provision raises fears that the budget “could put at risk the university's accreditation for its obstetrics and gynecology program” and in turn undermine medical education for future reproductive health providers.

“In order to provide patients with comprehensive medical care to meet their full reproductive needs,” Atkinson said, “women expect their physicians to be trained in abortion care.”

Planned Parenthood serves about 73,000 women in Wisconsin, including many in rural communities that lack adequate health-care facilities. Care typically focuses on non-abortion services like cancer screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, along with birth control. Pro-choice advocates point out that Walker's budget cuts target resources that have nothing to do with abortion per se, but rather, are designed to prevent women from even getting to the point at which they'd feel compelled to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The fact that family planning may actually lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies and therefore fewer abortions is apparently lost on lawmakers who see anything related to Planned Parenthood as baby murder.

If Walker's stance on Planned Parenthood seems illogical, it complements perfectly a slew of other budget provisions aimed at low-income women. For the unemployed single moms in Oshkosh and Kenosha, the loss of a local abortion clinic merely adds insult to injury. Separately in the budget, deep cuts Medicaid funding threaten a lifeline for the poor and uninsured in a state where the number of adults in poverty has grown by an estimated 119,300 since 2007, and where the poverty rate of children in single-parent households has reached about 40 percent.

Poor families will see cuts to tax credits that help them scrape by between paychecks, while corporations will be rewarded with lower taxes, thanks to a governor whose rise to the national stage was fueled by the Koch brothers' political dynasty.

With the same unconscionable logic, the attacks on women's well-being parallel a rollback in public support for children. The budget slices $800 million out of public education aid and guts state-sponsored college scholarships. In the wake of Walker's attack on civil servants' collective bargaining rights earlier this year, the final budget underscores the overlapping effects of starving the public sector. Since women make up the majority of state and local employees and enjoy high unionization rates, they face disproportionate pain from government cuts, in terms of job loss as well as cuts to social programs they need to avoid sliding toward poverty.

Beyond the war on choice, the cruel budget cuts in Walker's budget feed a far broader and more dangerous battle: not just against a woman's right to choose, but her right to live her own life.

Michelle Chen has written for ColorLines, In These Times, South China Morning Post, and her own zine, cain.
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