Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt has spent the last week defending the extremely controversial leaked draft of regulations that would re-define contraception as abortion, and allow federal institutions and employees to deny women contraception if said institutions/employees decided to define methods of birth control as abortion.
Many know, at this point, that every, major medical association in the country including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and others strongly oppose the regulations as they are drafted.
Twenty-six Senators including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have signed a letter to Secretary Leavitt outlining their objections as well.
At this point, the only vocal support has come from extremist, right wing anti-choice organizations that do not support family planning services or contraception for any American.
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And, now, there’s more.
The Guttmacher Institute recently released a study that will be featured in the October issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The study shows that more women in the United States are accessing contraception than ever before and that publicly funded health centers that provide these services are more needed than ever before.
Seventy-six percent of respondents in the survey said that they had used private health care providers to access contraception and family planning services and the remaining, almost one quarter of women, said they visited publicly funded health care centers. Interestingly, and critically, the almost 25% of women noted received a much broader range of services from these centers – including sexually transmitted infection testing, pap smears, annual exams, breast exams and more.
And if 76% of women are receiving their health care services from private practice providers, with the institution of a regulation such as this, would we not be setting up even more of a chasm between women who can afford to, essentially, bypass the regulation? Health care access is already a challenge for most Americans. With federal regulations that make it more difficult for lower income, uninsured or underinsured women to access family planning services, we bring down the economic hammer again.
Most importantly (and this is where my logical brain gets twisted into a knot), the report concludes that publicly funded health clinics "…helped women avoid 1.4 million unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 640,000 unintended births and 600,000 abortions." If these health centers and the family planning services they provide help prevent unintended pregnancies, why would we, again, enact more barriers to success?
I respectfully ask Secretary Leavitt, given this wealth of information, which women would you feel comfortable denying contraception to in favor of
protecting federal institutions "right to refuse"? Married women, single women, mothers, poor women, middle-class women, students, full-time workers? Whose rights get refused because a medically trained professional chose to work in a job that does not align with their particular beliefs?
Which women should be turned away from federally funded health care programs that provide contraception – so critical to women’s health and autonomy, the health of our families and to the benefit of public health as well?
Since 1970 and the creation of Title X to fund family planning federally for Americans who could not afford services otherwise (our most sucessful federal public health program, I might add), we have told American women and men that contraception and family planning are critical to a healthy society. Now, Secretary Leavitt wants to allow health care providers that have a personal or religious opposition to contraception to block access to this crucial public health tool.
So, Secretary Leavitt, some women will need to be martyred for this. Despite the proven success and necessity of publicly funded contraception accessible to those who need it, despite the evidence of clear benefit of publicly funded health centers that provide contraception to women, this administration would prefer to enact more barriers than less?
Which mothers, wives, girlfriends, aunts, sisters, or daughters will just be plain out of luck when they show up to fill their birth control prescription, get an IUD implanted, or purchase a diaphragm and be turned away because the government proclaims that some health care providers just don’t believe they should use those legal, successful methods to control their fertility?