opinion

‘WRONG MESSAGE’

Mike Pence Respects His Wife. Now How About the Rest of Us?

At the very least, Mike Pence’s attitude is backward and a little funny — but less funny ha-ha than funny uh-oh.

Vice President Mike Pence doesn’t go to dinner alone with women who aren’t his wife or drink alcohol around them.

Today, as political watchers debated whether or not it’s okay for a grown man to choose to conduct himself that way in the confines of a marriage, Pence cast the tie-breaking vote in a Senate bill that would make it possible for states to defund Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide reproductive health care to 4 million people.

It seems that refusing to go to dinner with female humans he’s not married to is among the least bad things Vice President Pence has done to them during his political career.

The tidbit that launched 1,000 thinkpieces comes from a Washington Post profile of Second Lady Karen Pence, which referenced a profile of Pence The Hill ran in 2002. In it, he spoke of “building a zone” around his marriage, since going out for drinks or dining alone with a non-wife female human can send “the wrong message.”

There are sensible reasons that somebody like Pence would avoid being alone with women. He was first elected to Congress in the shadow of the Clinton sex scandal years. During that time, a self-preserving politico would be wise to avoid any appearance of sexual impropriety. Plus, Pence’s choice to avoid being alone with women is a function of his religious faith. It’s hard to fathom similar left-wing backlash if Pence’s conduct were informed by a non-Christian faith.

At the very least, Mike Pence’s attitude is backward and a little funny, like how watching somebody try to ride a bicycle with a gigantic front wheel and a tiny back wheel is funny. It’s funny ha-ha to imagine a performatively paternal 57-year-old man relating to women in the way that a second grader afraid of cooties relates to second-grade girls. It’s funny uh-oh to reflect on how somebody unwilling to spend time around women has spent so much time trying to legislate away women’s access to health care.

Pence’s views on marriage are goofy, but they’re his business. Pence’s views on women’s health are directly and immediately harmful, and they’re everybody’s business.

It was Pence’s tie-breaking vote Thursday that passed a bill to weaken Title X, a federal grant program that provides birth control and other reproductive health care services to low-income or uninsured individuals. Opposition to reproductive choice has long been one of Pence’s policy trademarks.

One year ago this month as governor of Indiana, he signed legislation that would have required women to pay for burial or cremation services for their aborted fetuses. As governor, he signed eight anti-abortion laws in four years. And he was the first congressman to introduce legislation designed to federally defund Planned Parenthood, back in 2007.

Think of all the women he wasn’t going to dinner with then!

Title X was enacted by President Richard Nixon in 1970. It has never directly provided funding for abortion services and, because it makes it easier for people to get birth control, it reduces the number of unintended pregnancies and thus the demand for abortion. After repeated attempts by a handful of state legislatures to defund Planned Parenthood by blocking its access to Title X funds, the Obama administration clarified last December that in regulating Title X fund usage, states are not allowed to discriminate against health care providers based on whether or not they provide abortions. The law the Senate passed today used an obscure procedural maneuver to effectively undo that rule with a 51-vote majority.

The weakened version of Title X will still theoretically provide funding to “women’s health” clinics, but states will be free to discriminate against clinics that also provide abortion. In many places, Title X patients don’t have any other options for reproductive health care besides their local Planned Parenthood or other health provider that also provides abortion.

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Now, the bill proceeds to President Trump’s desk, where it will almost certainly be signed into law.