My mother was very politically active and taught both my brother and me that it is everyone’s responsibility as a citizen and as a person in the world to fight for what you believe in. And what I believe very strongly is that every woman has the right to decide what she can do with her body.
That seems like a no-brainer to me, but it’s not to some politicians; they’re working to restrict women’s access to reproductive health services—things like cancer screenings, birth control and abortion care. With jobs bills waiting on legislative calendars, the unemployment rate at a crisis level and many Americans losing their homes, I find it incredibly frustrating that we’re being forced to spend so much time and energy (and, yes, money) defending something as basic as self-determination.
The assaults on women’s health care have been fast and furious. Over 80 abortion restrictions were enacted in 2011—more than double the previous record, in 2005. But it’s not just abortion that’s under fire. Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry dramatically cut funding that would have provided many low-income women with cervical cancer screenings, birth control and STD prevention and treatment. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey slashed $7.5 million from his state’s budget meant for family planning centers that provide birth control and Pap tests. And there are dozens more examples all over the country. (You can visit Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s womenarewatching.org to see where some 2012 candidates stand on these issues.)
Many of these attacks are designed to shut down one provider: Planned Parenthood, the only health care provider to have been targeted by name in recent federal legislation. Restricting access to the services Planned Parenthood provides would affect millions of women—one in five American women turns to a Planned Parenthood health center at some point in her life. And more than 90 percent of these centers’ services are in preventive care; 3 percent are in abortion care.
I find these restrictions dismaying because they disproportionately target women with lower incomes. Wealthy women will always be able to access the health care they need. Planned Parenthood is there for every woman. This is an organization that works in communities to provide high-quality care like cervical cancer screenings, breast exams, HIV tests and birth control—often to women who would otherwise go without. It is the place you call if you are 16 and don’t know whom to ask about birth control. It’s the website that has answers in the middle of the night. It’s the health care resource that offers compassion and respect to women at times when they are incredibly vulnerable and afraid.
I’ve been a Planned Parenthood supporter my whole life—since my mom took me to a rally when I was in sixth grade. It’s chilling to think of this resource being taken away. I have a five-year-old daughter, and I’m pregnant with my second child. I know when my children are older, I will be taking them to events like the one I went to with my mom. I hope we’ll be celebrating our freedoms and rights, not fighting for them once again as we are now.
Oscar-nominated Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in next month’s Won’t Back Down.