Is Religious Extremism Behind Recent OK State Health Decisions?

Image of Oklahoma state capitol building and a church

The war on women continues here in Oklahoma.

On Thursday, the Tulsa World reported that the Oklahoma Department of Health will no longer allow three Planned Parenthood facilities in Tulsa to participate in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

WIC, which is funded by the federal government, provides nutritional assistance to at-risk women and children under five who fall below certain income levels.
It's difficult not to see the department's move as politically motivated, which was duly noted by Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. There has been a GOP legislative attempt in the past here to prevent Planned Parenthood from distributing WIC help because it makes abortion referrals. The Tulsa facilities don't provide abortions.

Considering that more than 50 percent of all Oklahoma babies receive some sort of WIC assistance, removing these facilities from distributing aid has the potential to negatively affect the health of thousands of women and children. That the decision could be construed as politically motivated by concerns of the anti-abortion crowd here makes it seem especially repugnant and shameful and illogical. Isn't "nutrition" something good for "life"? Doesn't that promote having babies?

June put it this way:

We call on the State to allow us to continue to be a place Oklahoma women and families can trust for these health services. Politics should never interfere with a woman's access to health services - or food for her children.

A spokesperson for the Health Department said there were "performance factors" involved in the decision and that it was solely a "business decision," but why the suddenness of the decision and why can't Planned Parenthood simply address these performance and business issues?

Planned Parenthood is a remarkable organization that has provided contraceptive and reproductive health services to women for decades, and its clinics are widely used throughout the country. Oklahoma women, in particular, need Planned Parenthood more than ever because of the state's medical access problems.

Unfortunately, the decision to remove the Planned Parenthood facilities from the WIC program wasn't the only recent health news that could be tied to right-wing extremism in Oklahoma.

Okie Funk and the progressive community recently learned that Norman attorney Marc Nuttle, the board chairman of the right-wing group The Oak Initiative, has been appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin to serve on the board of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the agency that administers SoonerCare or the state's Medicaid program.

No one can say for sure what ideas Nuttle might bring to the board, but the web site for his organization is quite clear about ideological intent. The organization's statement of purpose starts this way:

America is in crisis, possibly the greatest threat to its continued existence yet.

And here are some of the things The Oak Initiative is going to do about it:

  • Unlike many other groups, our goal is to see the development of leaders and leadership skills in our members so that along with a shift in the spirit of America, we are ready to champion the core values that are based on biblical or kingdom principles and wisdom.
  • . . . we want to encourage our members to find the wisdom of Daniel who as a captive servant in the realm of a foreign king was able to transform a nation through devotion to his King, strength of character and values, and with a controlled voice governed by respect, grace, and virtue.
  • It's about bringing wisdom, which we have gained from our personal relationship with the Lord and study of His word, into the market place at every level of social, cultural, and political expression.
  • . .  . it's about being a part of an historical shift in a nation that is called to a destiny by God to disciple other nations.

I wonder how "kingdom principles" might fit into administering health care for low-income people. According to Right Wing Watch, "Nuttle is a Republican adviser and economist with deep ties to an extreme movement within the Religious Right composed of advocates of Seven Mountains Dominionism." Here's a site associated with the movement.

Nuttle's appointment and attacks on Planned Parenthood may seem unrelated in specific terms, but they both come from the same extreme ideological and religious perspective. This ideological and religious perspective, which flourishes in the Republican Party these days, remains a real threat to the basic health of many Oklahomans, especially women and children.

The GOP's war on women isn't just a political slogan this election year.

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