A week or so into our new Presidential administration, and the strange sensation of living in a universe that only partially intersects that of many people I would formerly have have considered obvious political allies continues. Starting yesterday and on through today I began receiving messages from blogger friends and then from NOW-NY and then Planned Parenthood, that something very strange seemed to be happening with the economic stimulus bill. Apparently President Obama (who neither NOW nor Planned Parenthood can bring themselves to name as part of the problem, although Planned Parenthood does suggest calling the White House) and Congressional Democrats are willing to curry votes from Republicans on the Hill by cutting the Medicaid Family Planning State Option from the stimulus package the Congress is hoping to have ready for presidential signing by mid-Februrary. The Medicaid Family Planning State option is a provision that would provide health care coverage for 2.3 million low-income women, according to Planned Parenthood, by "allow[ing] states to expand their Medicaid family planning services, including cancer screenings and other preventive care, to more women in need, without having to go through the burdensome Medicaid waiver process." Or as the National Women's Law Center puts it, "In a disappointing move, the economic recovery package will not include a provision to make it easier for states to make family planning services more accessible and affordable to the millions of women and families who depend on them. The Medicaid Family Planning State Option would have allowed states to expand Medicaid eligibility for family planning services without having to obtain a federal waiver." Meanwhile, when I went to look at the January 28 New York Times print edition to for details, I found no mention of this ditching of the Family Planning option until deep into one of the three stories on the stimulus package, mentioned in passing in a vague paragraph on page A16 of the Washington print edition of the Times:
As the House version of the legislation came to the floor on Tuesday, Democrats stripped from it a provision that Republicans had ridiculed as having nothing to do with economic stimulus, one expanding federal Medicaid coverage of family planning services. (The Congressional Budget Officehad estimated that the provision would actually save the government $200 million over five years by reducing pregnancy and postnatal-care expenses.)
Then, as I sat down to compose my thoughts about this latest bit of chicanery over women's bodies, things turned a bit more surreal. Apparently, despite its reported spike in subscriptions, Ms. Magazine has enough leftover editions of its inaugural issue - you know, the one with this patently ridiculous cover, to just today be offering me more "one more chance" to own the cover in poster size.
Please note: no way in hell does a feminist look like a person who is willing to horse-trade funds for family planning benefits under Medicaid to placate Republicans, who will do anything to beat back money for family planning which they are trying as quickly as possible to turn into an epithet. Family planning is a good idea. So is birth control in most people's lives. So, in some cases, is access to safe and legal abortion. Family planning, birth control, access to safe and legal abortions: these are not dirty words. They are real world, practical options - options needed, at least as options, by all women if they are to be truly autonomous actors in our society; and therefore options that must be as available to those whose health insurance is provided by the government as to those whose insurance is provided by private insurers.
Here's a little trick used by many who teach property law across the country. Most first year law students arrive in their Property Law courses with two visions of what property is: either the stuff they just put away in their dorm rooms or a field in the country somewhere. So we law professors often start by telling them that no,that isn't property at all. What property really is, is the set of entitlements and rights any particular person or the state has to control or use the stuff they just put their dorm rooms or the field in the country. In other words, property is a bundle of say-so's over what happens to the bits and pieces in the world. Who gets to say what about what happens to what what bits and pieces makes up the law of property. Today's casebooks tend to leave out the statutes and cases that blatantly assumed that women and black men were bits and pieces that were just as much the objects of debates about particular say-so's - cases about the details of chattel marriage (e.g. since a husband controlled all of his wife's legal rights, could she ever charge him with rape?) and chattel slavery (e.g., since a slave owner controlled absolutely the working conditions of slaves, could a slave owner be charged with murder for willfully and knowingly depriving slaves of adequate rest or water thereby leading to their deaths?). Property casebooks tend to leave out these cases because it is rightly considered unacceptable to conceive of women and black men as the equivalent of the stuff in the dorm room or the field in the countryside. So, especially when it comes to chattel slavery, current law school curricula focus on the law that removed blacks from the status of chattel and recognized them as persons, not property.
Because there has never been a legal seismic shift in the status of women in this country - nothing comparable to a Civil War leading to an Emancipation Proclamation or the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution or the myriad of statutes and regulations passed to make the guarantees of these Amendments a reality - there is no natural place in law school curricula to address the halting transition our society is making toward giving women full say-so over their own bodies and the opportunity and means to give that say-so tangible effect. Some family law courses consider the question; some specialized courses in feminist legal studies do. But even the most aspirational of law school curricula still must work from the law as it is, not as we would have it be. And the fact remains that women have not been liberated from the shackles legally imposed on them.
If President Obama and the Democratic Congress were to horse-trade away men's rights to control their health care, I am confident that there would be hue and cry. But this is because the baseline assumption in our society is that men are entitled to control their own bodies. No man of any color is the property of the state, nor may the state dole out its aid starting from the presumption that the state has more say so over men's bodies then men themselves do.
But since President Obama has decreed "there's not a minute to spare" before he gets the stimulus package he is willing to settle for, apparently he has not a minute to spare to fight for the women's rights and resources to control and care for their bodies.