At Last, Prevention First

Cristina Page

To signal the seriousness with which Obama and the new Congress take the goal to prevent unintended pregnancy, on the first day the Senate returned to session, Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the Prevention First Act.

For reproductive rights advocates, and for all Americans distressed
with the rise in teenage pregnancy, Barack Obama arrives just in the
nick of time. We can now get back on track, pushing toward the common
ground goals Americans seek, namely, the goal of preventing unwanted

To signal the seriousness with which Obama and the
new Congress take this mission, last week, on the first day the Senate
returned to session, Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the Prevention First Act.
This legislation is designed to increase access to both contraception
and comprehensive sex education, as well as reduce unwanted pregnancies
in the United States. Yesterday, House Democrats Louise Slaughter and
Diana DeGette introduced it in the House.

This legislation will
hopefully end the reckless Bush years which pushed ideology over tried
and true methods to address the problem. If any further proof is needed
of the Bush failure, some timely data is at hand. Indeed the Bush era
ends with a couple of poetic, sad, but predictable footnotes. The CDC just released
new data showing that teen birth rates rose in more than half the
states in the country in 2006 hitting hardest the South – the region most
loyal to Bush and his abstinence-only mission. (The pro-choice,
comprehensive sex ed supporting Northeastern states had the lowest teen
birth rates.) Another CDC study
released days ago discovered STDs are on the rise also. Medical experts
continually sounded the alarm during the Bush years, warning that the
abstinence-only approach would sow the seeds of ignorance in teenagers.
Those seeds are finally bearing fruit. In the South, where
abstinence-only was promoted as the only safe way to avoid pregnancy
and STDs, it has yielded bitter fruit.

When Bush took office he
was handed the lowest unintended pregnancy and abortion rates in
decades. During the Clinton years, a woman’s right to make important
life decisions, like when to become a mother, was respected. But at the
behest of his fervent base, Bush discarded the policies that led to
those universally desired results. Sex education was replaced with
abstinence-only, which dismissed actual knowledge as a corrupting
force, indeed, as an inducement to experiment. (Teens it turns out need
no inducement on that score.) Bush filled contraceptive posts with
anti-contraceptive ideologues. Instead of increasing access to
contraception in order to prevent unwanted pregnancy, Bush’s HHS tried
to redefine contraception as abortion. Bush promised that we’d arrive
at the same sought-after destination, reduced unwanted pregnancy. Now,
at the end of this harrowing roadtrip we discover that in addition to
gutting our 401Ks, he’s knocked up our daughters and given them the

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Prevention First contains an array of remedies and undoes
some of the damage to women’s reproductive health. For example, one
solution addresses the skyrocketing prices of birth control on college
campuses. In his Federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, Bush removed
college health centers from the discount drug pricing program causing
birth control prices to escalate, in some cases by 900%. College-aged
women are the demographic at greatest risk of unwanted pregnancy and
have higher abortion rates than any other group. Prevention First puts
college health centers back into the discounting program. It is a cost
neutral way to improve contraceptive access for the group of women in
greatest need of it.

In 2000, as the Bush reign was gearing up,
fully half of all women of reproductive age – 34 million women – lacked
contraceptive services and supplies. Half of those women could not
afford to buy such care on their own and needed public support. Between 2000 and 2004,
the number of U.S. women in need of publicly funded contraceptive
services and supplies increased by 6%-more than one million women. That
was when the economy was great. Now, things are exponentially worse.
Americans are not only losing their jobs, but along with them, their
health insurance and contraceptive coverage.

Prevention First
expands the safety net by funding Title X, the nation’s contraceptive
program for the poor, at a level more appropriate to the swelling need.
The program has been under-funded for years. Had Title X
funding kept pace with medical inflation since FY 1980, it would now be
funded at more than $725 million instead of the FY 2007 level of $283
million. Prevention First would fund Title X just under that–it
requests a $700 million budget. As Congresswoman Slaughter explained
when introducing the bill, ""For every dollar spent on family planning
services, it is estimated that almost four dollars is saved in public
health spending." Prevention First is sound fiscal policy as well as the right public health policy.

the last eight years the anti-choice movement has revealed its bold
anti-contraception agenda and found a willing partner in the Bush
administration. Anti-contraceptive operatives have fought every attempt
to expand access to family planning. Each time contraceptive coverage
legislation was introduced the anti-choice movement was there to beat
it back. They shamelessly fought legislation to provide sexual assault
victims with the ability to prevent a pregnancy as a result of the
rape. They worked to confuse the public about the mode of action of
contraceptive methods, claiming all hormonal methods of birth control
can cause abortion. Through abstinence-only programs they denied
sexually active teens information about contraception and filled their
heads with inaccuracies and fears about the safety of condoms.

First would begin to undue these damages. It would ensure that
contraceptives are included in all health plans that cover prescription
drugs and that no matter what hospital a rape victim is brought to she
can get emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. It re-establishes
science and medicine as the sources of policy, and in particular, on
what contraception really is as well as its effectiveness. It will
reestablish comprehensive sex education programs as the standard, those
subjected to "rigorous scientific research" that show, quantitatively,
to lower teen pregnancy and STD rates.

The anti-contraception
forces, standing on the wreckage that has resulted from their policies,
vow to continue obstructing and confusing. Upon the introduction of
Prevention First in the Senate, the Family Research Council warned
that the bill would "direct hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to
the abortion industry," "use taxpayer funds to mislead people about the
potential of the "morning after pill" (known as Plan B) to act as an
abortifacient," and "target teens’ with "comprehensive" sex education;
and spread emergency contraception." I say, if they oppose it, we’re on
the right track.

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