Sunday, November 25, 2012
Partisan trends threaten women;s health care
- Is there still freedom after speech?
- More than two positions on abortion
- Move past our history of violence
- Cox is a willing partner
- Commentary archive
From the RoundTable blog
Read the latest entries
"Planned Parenthood" and "women's health care" have been touted favorably on post-election lists of winners and losers. That's no surprise. President Obama and Sen.-elect Tim Kaine won in great part because of their strong positions on women's health. Both ran spirited campaigns in Virginia characterizing the stark dichotomy between their positions on women's issues and that of their Republican opponents.
Whether Planned Parenthood - or more precisely, our patients - benefits from these electoral outcomes seems a foregone conclusion. Yet, beyond the mere vote totals lies a disturbing divide between the two major political parties over women's health care. With each passing election, Democratic candidates increasingly support access to safe, legal abortion and contraception and Republican candidates increasingly do not.
The congressional elections accelerated this trend with the departures of moderate Republican senators like Scott Brown (Massachusetts) and Olympia Snowe (Maine). The centrists who so often serve to bridge the partisan divide continue to dwindle in number.
Such polarization undermines the ability of elected officials to collectively craft sensible public policy regarding women's health care. In fact, there are political incentives not to resolve volatile issues like abortion. During primaries, too often the absolutist positions prevail. (It's the reason so many Republican candidates oppose abortions for rape victims.) In general elections, the gap between each party's positions fuels political contributions and volunteer recruitment. There is little motivation for compromise and resolution. After all, the next election is just around the corner.
It wasn't always this way. In 1970, three years before the Roev. Wade decision, New York legalized abortion through the first 24weeks of pregnancy. The law was co-authored by Assemblywoman Constance Cook (a Republican) and state Sen. Franz Leichter (a Democrat). Back then, Republicans controlled both houses of the legislature and the governor's mansion.
In New York, enough Republicans adhered to the principles of personal responsibility and smaller government and enough Democrats embraced the women's rights movement so that together they could forge good public policy. Abortion was very political, but not very partisan.
The same had been true in Virginia. When I began lobbying for Planned Parenthood in 1990, many Republican legislators supported abortion rights. Just as many Democrats opposed legal abortion. Though legislators disagreed, their differences weren't so heavily skewed by party affiliation.
Today in Virginia, good public policy regarding women's reproductive health care is distorted and undermined by vitriolic partisanship. The latest example is the new law requiring women's health centers to be retrofitted with taller ceilings, larger procedure rooms and wider corridors based upon specious claims of improving women's safety.
Every stage of this law's implementation is demonstrative of how not to craft good public policy: The legislation passed after a last-minute legislative maneuver to amend a bill having nothing to do with women's health care. The bill targeted those who provide more than four abortions per month, though physicians who specialize in particular medical procedures demonstrate better safety records. The House and Senate voted almost exclusively along party lines. Every Republican abandoned that party's noble principles of opposing unwarranted government regulations.
Gov.Bob McDonnell had the law hastily implemented using "emergency regulations" though no evidence of a public health emergency existed. The Virginia Board of Health was then bullied by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli into reversing its vote so as to more stringently apply the architectural standards. The process was so crassly manipulated that Health Commissioner Karen Remley resigned in frustration stating that she could not "in good faith" carry forth the new regulations.
It did not have to be this way. Twenty-two other states already regulate facilities performing abortions. Many do so sensibly and in a manner that furthers safe medical care. The Virginia law even includes some regulations regarding infection prevention and quality assurance that are reasonable for safeguarding public health. However, the entire law becomes suspect when the process of good government is subjugated to partisan political gain.
The two parties remain deeply divided over women's reproductive health care issues. The November elections demonstrated women's growing opposition to being partisan targets for government intrusion. Both parties would do well to seek common ground. They can find it in the pursuit of good governance and sensible public policy.