Inside Story - Is there a war on women''s health care?
Inside Story America

Is there a war on women’s health care?

We ask if conservative groups in the US have a growing influence over women’s access to certain types of health care.

Some rights groups have called it a war against women – a battle that has seen women’s health providers in the US come under sustained attack from conservative groups. 

“This was an effort to politicise what is not a political thing …. I think when it comes to women’s health there aren’t two sides to this issue.”

– Tara McGuinness from the Center for American Progress

Last week, the issue came to the fore again when one of the country’s best-known breast cancer charities, the Susan G Komen foundation, decided to end funding to clinics run by Planned Parenthood.

Komen’s actions triggered an avalanche of protests and donations for Planned Parenthood. Its supporters say the organisation was targeted because it provided abortions for women as part of its health care services.

The backlash eventually saw Komen claim to have reversed its decision, although future funding for Planned Parenthood is still far from assured.

The row points to a long-running assault from anti-abortion campaigners – one which last year became lodged into the budget debate that almost shut down the US government.

“Planned Parenthood is our nation’s biggest provider of abortions. And people that believe abortion is morally wrong … certainly don’t want their tax-payer dollars going to this sort of organisation.”

– Hadley Heath from the Independent Women’s Forum

Recently, the issue has widened beyond abortion, with conservatives wanting to end federal funding for family planning and contraceptive services.

Barack Obama, the US president, is not immune from criticism either after his administration blocked over-the-counter sales of the Plan B morning after pill to girls under 17 years of age, overruling the decision of the food and drug administration.

So, is women’s health being damaged by politics in the US? Has the controversy over breast cancer funding to the Planned Parenthood organisation underlined the extent to which conservative groups in the US now influence women’s health access?

Inside Story Americas, with Shihab Rattansi, discusses with: Hadley Heath, a senior policy analyst with the Independent Women’s Forum; Tara McGuinness from the Center for American Progress; and Judy Norsigian from the women’s health advocacy group, Our Bodies Ourselves.

“What we see here is a conservatising trend in this country that I think has emboldened many who may not have done something like what Komen did last week to thinking that this is the path to least resistance. I saw the reversal of the decision simply as damage control. I do not think there has been a profound change in perspective at all.”

Judy Norsigian from Our Bodies Ourselves

Laura Meyers, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in Metropolitan Washington, told Al Jazeera:

“When we are looking at abortion, people have really divergent views on abortion and I think those to some degree may be irreconcilable differences. And, unfortunately, you have an extreme agenda around making abortion illegal and inaccessible that drives that agenda and the conversation about Planned Parenthood. But 90 per cent of what we do is preventive health care.”

About Planned Parenthood:

Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of reproductive health services in the US. Tests and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases make up 35 per cent of its activities. Another 35 per cent is on contraceptive services. Cancer screenings account for 16 per cent of its activities and abortion services make up three per cent.

Planned Parenthood gets one-third of its $1.1bn budget from the US government, but US government funds cannot be used for abortion.


  • In 2011, 135 measures on reproductive health were passed by 36 US states
  • There was a 50 per cent rise in reproductive health provisions in 2011 compared to 2010
  • Sixty-eight per cent of reproductive health measures in 2011 restrict access to abortion
  • Ninety-two provisions enacted in 24 states restrict access to abortion
  • Republicans rule most states where abortion restrictions were enacted
  • The Republican majority in the US House wants greater limits placed on abortion
  • House Republicans have launched a probe into Planned Parenthood
  • Komen cited the House probe of Planned Parenthood while halting funding
  • Most Republicans oppose government funding of Planned Parenthood
  • Republican candidates have pledge to de-fund Planned Parenthood
  • All four candidates for the Republican nomination for the presidency have opposed abortion rights