Steven Valentine

The Lions and Lambs of March

March began by roaring in like a righteous she-lion with #MeToo at the Oscars, and Oprah's speech about the loud collapse of dozens of male bullies. These included two at the White House who resigned when a photo of an ex-wife with a black eye punctured their collective male denial of their crimes against women. Yet March showed no sign of leaving like a lamb.

All month we endured more stories of women’s bodies claimed as sexual property, bought and paid for—sued and countersued over then-candidate Trump’s affairs.  Pay-off money and unkept business deals to silence women before the election is part of that news-roar. A Playboy bunny and a porn star, young enough to be Trump’s daughter, both alleged that before sex he admired them for being as smart and beautiful as his daughter—ee-yew!

NBC’s Heidi Przbyla and other women journalists have lately brought to the forefront a lamb that hasn’t gotten as much attention. Quieter, it bleats another tale of young female bodies treated as property. In mid-February, Planned Parenthood joined with eight local government, healthcare, and advocacy groups to sue Trump’s HHS (Health & Human Services). The Washington Post reported $220 million in sudden cuts to a reauthorized national Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, despite evidence it was working.

Reporter Przbyla found the program, begun in 2010, had bipartisan support in Congress and had trained more than 7,000 health professionals and supported 3,000 community-based organizations. The result, reported most recently in 2017, was record lows in US teen pregnancy and birth rates.

Damningly, and in keeping with Trump cuts in other programs benefiting women and children, she reported that experienced female administrators at HHS had been kept out of the decision-making loop and were told to “get in line.” Cuts came down by command from Steven Valentine, an anti-abortion abstinence activist put in charge of HHS family planning.  One administrator said she was “so rattled” that “my reaction when I got on the phone was to cry.”

But now picture her singing along with that old song of Helen Reddy’s: I am woman, hear me roar! Because a week after Przbyla’s story came out, HHS withdrew some of its cuts. And I suspect women aren’t done yet with evidence-based programs that work to prevent teenaged pregnancies. We're just done with protection of outdated male claims on women’s bodies and decisions.