You won't get thrown into prison for passing out condoms in the United States in 2011, but the vote in the House last week to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding proves that the battle of women for full reproductive freedom is a long way from being won.
The vote on the amendment to cut funding was 240 to 185. Virtually every Republican - including our own Rep. Greg Walden, naturally - voted in favor. To their credit Oregon's four other members of the House, all Democrats, voted no.
The vote was the climax of what has every appearance of a well-orchestrated campaign to discredit Planned Parenthood, which is the largest family planning provider in the United States and serves more than 5 million clients a year. Video from a clever sting operation staged by an anti-abortion group aimed at showing that Planned Parenthood supports child prostitution got a lot of publicity; less well-publicized was the fact that in every case, staffers reported the man posing as a "pimp" to police.
If the defunding vote was intended to stop abortions, it was a remarkably dumb way to do it. In the first place, none of the federal money Planned Parenthood gets pays for abortions - under the law it can't.
And providing abortions is just a tiny fraction - about 2% to 3% - of what Planned Parenthood does. Contraceptive services and counseling and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases make up two-thirds of its activity; cancer screening accounts for another 17%, and other women's health services (including, ironically, prenatal care and infertility counseling) comprise the rest.
Finally, and most importantly, making safe, legal abortions unavailable will only force women who need abortions to get dangerous, illegal ones. That's the way things were before Margaret Sanger came along - and it apparently is how the radical religious right wants things to be again.
Planned Parenthood operates 16 centers in Oregon, including three in Walden's congressional district - one in Bend, one in Medford and one in Grants Pass. If lack of funding forces them to shut down, many low-income women, including many teens (women under 19 make up more than 25% of Planned Parenthood's clients) will have nowhere else to go for affordable reproductive health care. But for Walden and his fellow Republicans, the well-being of their constituents clearly is far less important than pandering to the far-right fringe elements that make up a hefty chunk of the party's "base."
It's not likely that the funding cut will make it all the way past the Senate and President Obama. But if it does, and if as a result women in Eastern Oregon find themselves without the services of Planned Parenthood when they need them, they might want to send good old Greg Walden a thank-you note - perhaps affixed to a well-ripened deceased cat.
As for us, we're sending him THE BOOT.