Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Out of Touch

Rightwing ideologues are waging a new culture war

Title X is the federal grant program that provides comprehensive family planning and other health-related services to people. Two-thirds of the patients live in poverty and have no health insurance.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon said, “It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

The sponsor of Title X was former President George H.W. Bush, then a member of the U.S. House. Bush said, “We need to make population and family planning household words. We need to take sensationalism out of this topic so that it can no longer be used by militants who have no real knowledge of the voluntary nature of the program but rather are using it as a political stepping stone. If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter.”

Title X and family planning passed the U.S. House 298 to 32 and the Senate unanimously.

Almost two generations later, rightwing ideologues are waging a new culture war upon women.

Last election cycle, Tea Party Republicans rode a national wave into office. Promising lower taxes, they lost their way. Their rightwing ideology flared into anti-women rhetoric and policy.

The modern day U.S. House defunded Planned Parenthood. A moderate Senate rejected the idea.

Title X reaches far past Planned Parenthood. Family planning is annually delivered to 5 million people in nearly 5,000 clinics and other health centers across America. Planned Parenthood of Montana serves close to 27,000 patients annually, including many college students.

The last GOP-controlled Montana Legislature sent Gov. Brian Schweitzer a budget that eliminated the family planning services entirely. The GOP removed state funding to family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood and county health departments. The legislative intent was to prevent Montana from accepting the millions of dollars in federal funds for family health services.

A tax-cutting and budget-frugal Schweitzer simply restored funding by amendatory veto. And the Montana Legislature relented, having politically underestimated the bipartisan support for women’s services from the voters back home. But if not for the Democratic governor, family planning in Montana would have ceased in many areas throughout the state.

The militants – as Bush referred to the fanatical political fringe – are today focusing their wrath upon women’s contraception.

The rhetoric became so surreal that GOP commentator Rush Limbaugh labeled a young Georgetown University law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for publicly advocating that employers cover contraception in health plans.

A young Sandra Fluke answered an old Limbaugh with a nationwide letter stating, “Restricting access to such a basic health care service, which 99% of sexually experienced American women have used and 62% of American women are using right now, is out of touch with public sentiment.”

Embarrassingly few, if any, Montana Republican candidates condemned the insulting rightwing radio chatter. The GOP is apparently run by fanatics who promote their own ideology upon a more moderate and mature nation. Unfortunately for Limbaugh, more than 140 national companies in the free market have pulled advertising dollars from rightwing radio.

Fringe candidates ignore the simple notion that women account for most of the voting population. Demagoguing women is one dumb strategy to win elections. No candidate can win an election without support from young, middle-aged or mature women.

Women remember, and are passionately active in politics. And women voters will determine multiple top races in Montana.

Montana has plenty of Democratic women in higher office. Their courage to make all our lives better is remarkable.

Elections matter and set the political tone for the future. And 2012 will be a banner year for women in Montana elections, no matter how loudly the middle-aged and old men of the Tea Party rage.