The GOP’s Great Mammogram Farce Of 2015

Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

The word of the day: “Mammogram.”

Over and over during the farce that was supposed to be a hearing on Planned Parenthood, Republican representatives attacked Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards because her organization does not provide mammograms as part of its core set of services. (They do sometimes pair with organizations for programs that offer them to low-income women.) Over and over again, the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn’t offer mammograms was held out as some kind of proof that the organization doesn’t provide women’s health care. Apparently, Republicans are under the impression that women are Barbie dolls, with big breasts and nothing between our legs but a flat surface.

Breasts are a part of women’s bodies, so to the uninformed, the idea that Planned Parenthood doesn’t perform this particular kind of women’s health care might sound like a profound gotcha, indeed. But in reality, there’s no reason for them to have mammogram machines on premises. Most gynecologists don’t do them on premises, but refer women out to another location for a mammogram, because mammogram facilities are accredited by the American College of Radiology. I did a quick search in my area and found that nearly all available mammogram facilities were radiology centers or hospitals.

Women are only recommended to start mammograms at age 50, though some start younger if their doctor believes family history requires it. While Planned Parenthood serves people of all ages, they are primarily a family planning clinic, which means that most of the clientele is going to veer young. Think 20s and 30s, not 40s and 50s. The overlap between the women who need birth control pills and the women who need mammograms is pretty small. It’s a waste of precious resources for Planned Parenthood, whose focus is on women seeking sexual health care services, to have a mammogram machine to serve the relatively small number of patients who are approaching menopause—or are past it.

This obsession with mammograms belies the real agenda here, which has nothing to do with “fetal body parts” or even abortion, but with delegitimizing health care that exists so that people, particularly women, can have healthy and safe sex lives. The implication was clear: Mammograms are real health care, and all those other services—contraception, STI testing and treatment, Pap smears—are not. After all, virgins can get breast cancer, but you aren’t going to get the clap or an unintended pregnancy if you don’t have sex.

Republicans are smart and know they can’t just come right out and denounce the use of health care services in order to have recreational sex, because recreational sex is a nearly universal behavior. Ninety-nine percent of women who have sex have used contraception. Ninety-five percent of Americans had premarital sex. So the slut-shaming is being done sideways, by focusing heavily on non-sexual health care—or prenatal care—while pointedly ignoring the health care people centered around having sex. The omission speaks volumes.

If you thought the religious right had given up on the mission to push abstinence-until-marriage, this hearing should be a reminder that they very much have not, and instead are eager to undermine any care for the non-abstinent out of fear that it gives permission to have sex. Abstinence-only programs haven’t gone anywhere, either. As Erica Hellerstein of Think Progress reported over the summer, most programs were just renamed something like “abstinence-focused” or even, falsely, “evidence-based,” but they are pushing the same message: The only legitimate life choice is to refrain from having sex until marriage.

Why they don’t think married women need contraception is another question entirely, but we are talking about politicians who think you need a mammogram machine in a family planning clinic that primarily serves women in their 20s. Expertise on what women actually need in their health care is not a strong suit.

Ultimately, we don’t need to look further than the policy proposals themselves, which make it all the more obvious that sexual health care is the GOP’s true target. The funding being debated is for Pap smears, contraception, and STI testing and treatment. All this talk about fetal tissue and videos and Cecile Richards’ salary is simply a distraction from what this is really about, which is that women are having sex and Republicans would very much like for them to cut it out.

Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.

Latest Cafe
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: