The Politics of Reproductive Policy Restrictions: Family Planning Policy in the United States
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The Politics of Reproductive Policy Restrictions: Family Planning Policy in the United States

  • Author(s): McCoy, Julisa Amanda
  • Advisor(s): Reese, Ellen
  • et al.

Publicly funded family planning programs assist low-income women, many of whom are women of color, in realizing their reproductive, educational, and career goals. Conservative lawmakers have recently become increasingly active in passing laws that restrict the allocation and use of state-level funding for family planning programs, depriving low-income women of this critical resource. My dissertation research uses mixed-methods to better understand the politics and impacts of contemporary family planning policy restrictions from an intersectional feminist perspective. The first study (Chapter 2) is a quantitative, cross-sectional analysis of family planning funding policies in the U.S. Using regression techniques, I demonstrate the influence that various social and political forces have on the restrictiveness or leniency of state-level family planning policymaking. I find that the strongest determinant of family planning policy restrictiveness is not public conservatism, states’ fiscal health, or the strength of feminist interest groups, but rather, state government (i.e., policymakers’) ideology. The study’s findings underscore the significance of state actors and institutional power in reproductive health care policymaking, as well as electoral politics. In addition, this chapter demonstrates that family planning and reproductive health care has become increasingly subject to partisan policymaking rather than public health care needs.

The qualitative chapters of my dissertation reveal the ways in which abortion-related restrictions to family planning in Texas compounded Latinx women’s barriers sexual and reproductive health care (SRHC) access along the border in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), particularly among current and former consumers of publicly funded family planning programs (Chapter 3), and the conditions under and ways in which these women mobilized against anti-abortion policies to protect and promote their reproductive health (Chapter 4). My analyses are based on 30 in-depth interviews with low-income Latinx women (25 of whom currently or previously used publicly funded family planning programs).

Chapter 3 combines the social determinants of health perspective and intersectional feminist theory to gain a better understanding of, as well as elevate, Latinx women’s lived experiences related to SRHC access and their health-seeking behaviors. Consistent with previous research on the social determinants of Latinx women’s health care access, the SRHC challenges my respondents describe are largely related to socioeconomic status and financial hardship (structural barriers), and sociocultural barriers including familial and societal pressures of traditional religious beliefs and “sexual silence.” The loss of funding as a result of Texas’ cutbacks and restrictions to family planning programs (i.e., political barriers) disproportionately affected access in the RGV and further compounded the existing structural and sociocultural barriers, as it forced nearly a third of clinics to shut down in a region that was already recognized as medically underserved. The clinic closures and increased costs of services made it increasingly difficult to schedule a timely appointment and access their preferred method of contraception. I argue that this compounding convergence of structural, sociocultural, and political barriers as they are experienced by and impact Latinx women in the RGV represent a distinct “matrix” of barriers that places low-income, uninsured Latinx women in this region within a multiply disadvantaged situation that I refer to as a “triple bind” of reproductive oppression. My concept of the triple bind uses the conceptual tools advanced by intersectional feminist theory to situate the barriers to SRHC access within the interlocking systems of oppression and relations of power that ultimately structure and (re)produce the persistent SRHC disparities endemic to the RGV.

Lastly, in Chapter 4, I draw from the social movements scholarship on mobilization to explore the conditions under and ways in which Latinx women in the RGV mobilize to promote and protect their reproductive health and rights. The findings in this study, however, are based on the subset of interviewees who are current or former consumers of publicly funded family planning services (n=25). I find that material and ideological resource mobilization by social movement organizations are particularly important in first politicizing women around SRHC and then facilitating their political participation (e.g., from consciousness-raising efforts to education and advocacy outreach to protests). Respondents’ personal connections to a broader network of activists and social movement activities (i.e., social movement communities) also significantly influence their participation. Finally, grievances (manifested as feelings of anger and a sense of injustice) and empowerment (i.e., pride and a sense of efficacy) are central to mobilizing – and often sustaining – political activity. For others, political non-participation is related to structural barriers to participation and/or a calculated decision to avoid emotional strain – a cognitive process that others refer to as “emotion management” (Hochschild 1979; Norgaard 2006). As my research reveals, emotional strain caused by feelings of shame, social discomfort and anxieties, and activist burnout act as barriers to political participation. Emotional processes as inhibiting mobilization remain largely understudied in the social movement literature. This dissertation ultimately exemplifies the significance and necessity of publicly funded family planning programs.

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