Last Minute Deal Prevents Federal Government Shutdown

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Last Friday, Americans braced themselves for an impending government shutdown. Two hours before midnight, President Obama, the House of Representatives and the Senate came to a budget agreement that would keep the federal government functioning. At issue was the Tea Party influenced, Republican-dominated House’s contention that government spending had to be reduced. Democrats stood to protect programs beloved by the majority of Americans. Citizens saw spending reductions as a ploy to enact social policy.

At risk were long-standing programs like the Environmental Protection Agency, National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood. Title X, which funds health care and nutrition programs for millions of pregnant women, infants and children, was slated to be cut.

Concerned citizens took to the streets and the internet. Action groups circulated online petitions and issued pleas to contact federal elected representatives. One after another, rallies were held in the nations capitol.

Last Thursday, a coalition of women’s health advocates from across the country rallied in Washington, D.C. Speaker after speaker, from Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards to NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Nancy Keenan, said they couldn’t believe they were rallying in support of women’s health care, yet again.Groups as diverse as the ACLU, SisterSong, Catholics for Choice, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, National Women’s Law Center, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, and National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health stood with supporters of women’s health care.

Senator Charles Schumer declared any budget that did not include Planned Parenthood and Title X was “dead on arrival.”  Senator Gillibrand has consistently voice support for women’s health services. An interfaith coalition of religious leaders issued a statement that affirmed their support for social justice and equal rights to health care, respect for women’s moral agency, compassion and the obligation to protect every woman’s health and life, and safeguarding religious liberty.

When the budget deal was finally announced, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was short lived as details of the agreement began to emerge. The District of Columbia found it could no longer use its own (not federal) tax dollars to fund abortions for low income women. None of DC’s elected officials were consulted. DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has been challenging federal legislation to abolish the district’s home-rule. “We are in a fight to keep our city from suffering the insult of a rollback of the self-governing of the city itself.”

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, all six of the districts council members, and three dozen others were arrested on Capitol Hill as they protested the loss of local funding for abortions and the re-instatement of vouchers that would divert students from public schools. “We needed to make a statement,” said Mayor Gray.  “While NARAL Pro-Choice New York is relieved that funding for Planned parenthood and Title X clinics were rightfully preserved in the budget negotiations,” said Mary Alice Carr, VP of Communications, NARAL, “we are appalled that poor women were used as bargaining chips in this budget process and that the women of Washington, DC are ultimately left to bear the cost.”

NARAL has pledged to show solidarity with DC women by making a donation to DC Abortion Fund, an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that makes grants and no-interest loans to DC regional women who cannot afford the full cost of an abortion. “We hope that those who support women’s access to reproductive healthcare will do the same,” said Carr.

Rep. Yvette Clarke is challenging “the American people [to get] focused on what’s real. What is being proposed by the Republicans – the reckless Republicans in Washington right now – is fictitious.” Clarke issued strong words on the current situation in the nation’s capitol. “Their (the Republican) agenda is one of destruct. I know those terms sound a bit drastic, but when you look at the cuts that have been done in the budget, the continuing resolution, and what is being proposed in the Ryan budget – that’s our families, our communities. That’s destruction as we know it.”Clarke said President Obama is “trying to do the best he can under the circumstances. The pressure has to come, I believe, from the American people who recognize how critical it is for us to keep our social compact. They (the Republicans) are obliterating [Medicare and Medicaid]. They want to privatize health care in America. That has been their ongoing mission, and to make sure our grandparents are the ones to suffer the consequences. It’s a wealth transfer program.”

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