Once again, the United States government is on the brink of shutting down. Lawmakers have just five working days to pass a new budget, or else nonessential government functions will be suspended and hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be sent home — just like in 2013.
At issue is Planned Parenthood. GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is leading the charge by a group of fellow Republicans who vow to block any funding bill that includes money for the women's health organization. Planned Parenthood receives around $500 million annually from the government, which makes up about 40% of its revenue — though it's already barred by law from spending any of that money on abortion.
In a statement sent to Refinery29, the organization reiterated that the vast majority of its care is preventative and not related to abortion. "Planned Parenthood provides nearly 400,000 Pap tests, 500,000 breast exams, and 4.5 million STI tests and treatments to 2.7 million patients; one in five women has relied on Planned Parenthood for health care in her lifetime," it read.
Last week, the House of Representatives voted a largely symbolic bill through to defund Planned Parenthood, since it's virtually certain not to make it past the Senate. That morning, we spoke to Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state and longtime supporter of reproductive rights, about how she feels about the ongoing fight.
A shutdown's on the horizon again. Are you surprised we're back here?
"It’s just really disappointing. Once again, we are coming to a time when our nation wants us to get the job done, to take care of our budget and manage our economy, and the Republicans are threatening to hold that hostage over a woman’s right to choose. I just find that really offensive.
Especially since, as recently as August, the Republican Senate leadership was vowing "no more government shutdowns."
"I really hope they learned their lesson, but I’m disappointed that it sounds like they haven’t. If [Republicans] want to take these issues outside and have debates, that’s fine — that’s part of democracy. But holding our economy hostage is not responsible.
"Right now they’re talking about the videos, but it's not about the videos…it’s about taking away a woman’s right to make her own healthcare choices. For some reason, they are just bent on making those decisions for women. I just don’t think that flies in this country."
So, I'll ask: Why do we need to keep Planned Parenthood open?
"Planned Parenthood provides incredible services to 2.7 million men and women every single year. Women get everything from cancer screenings to birth control. Women in rural communities who don’t have any other access to health care for issues like birth control rely on Planned Parenthood. These are doctors that these women trust."
Is your perspective on this, as a woman, part of why it's so important to have more women in Congress?
"Yes, because we’re the ones who know. We’ve lived through it, and we don’t want some elected man or elected official telling us how we make those choices. We want that decision to be between ourselves and our doctors and our spouses and our loved ones. It always feels like such a control issue for elected officials to say, 'You don’t get to make that choice, we do.'"
You've been in the Senate since 1992. Why do you think this keeps coming up?
"There are people who just cannot accept that women should be allowed to make their own healthcare choices. It is a control issue, and I think women see it that way. Whether or not you personally would have an abortion is not part of this discussion. It’s whether or not somebody else gets to decide for you."
What would you say to your Republican colleagues?
"Once again, Republicans are pushing us towards another completely unnecessary crisis. Instead of working with Democrats on a solution, before the shutdown hits, Republican leaders are much more focused on pandering to their extreme Tea Party base. How? By attacking women’s health care. Women and men need to stand up and say, 'No. This is not how our country should run.'"