Anti-Choicers Use GAO Report in Attack on Family Planning

Jodi Jacobson

The people that love to hate Planned Parenthood launch yet another campaign to eliminate publicly-funded family planning because of "moral opposition" while concurrently deflecting responsibility for the Gulf disaster. Morality anyone?

What would you say if I offered you an investment that yielded nearly $4.00 in value for every $1.00 invested…and could prove it?

And what would you say if the yields from this investment over the long-term meant better health, higher educational attainment, higher economic productivity and lower social costs for US citizens, benefitting by extension our country as a whole in the short- and long-term?  What if this investment contributed meaningfully to reducing poverty and to increasing the freedom of individuals to make decisions about their own lives but still be socially responsible?

If you’re a smart investor, I am guessing you’d be interested. On the face of it you might think that people across the political spectrum could agree that such investments would be a good idea.

But in the United States today, of course, things are never that simple.

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The investment in question is government funding for Title X, Medicaid and other programs that support voluntary family planning and related sexual and reproductive health services, as well as education and training of health professionals, and outreach to adolescents and young adults. These funds provide millions of Americans with access to routine primary health exams and screenings (such as for breast and cervical cancer), access to contraception, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and increased access to treatment for AIDS-related illnesses. They also enable women to avoid unplanned pregnancies, thereby reducing the need for abortion. This money saves and improves lives.

In 2008, for example, publicly-funded clinics provided over 7 million female clients with contraceptive supplies, helping to avert an estimated 1.5 million unintended pregnancies. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that of these pregnancies, 656,000 would have resulted in an unplanned birth and 616,000 would have resulted in an abortion (the remainder would have resulted in miscarriage). Overall, concludes Guttmacher, by helping women avoid unintended pregnan­cies and plan how many children they want and when to have them, publicly supported family planning clinics save taxpayers $3.74 for every $1 that is spent providing contraceptive care. These savings are net of the total that would include early detection and treatment of cervical and breast cancers caught during regular exams, sexually transmitted infections avoided and those treated, and any number of other benefits of access to these basic primary health services.

So…what’s not to like?

Ask Congressmen Pete Olson (R-TX) and Mike Pence (R-IN).

In the ongoing witch hunt to eliminate access to reproductive and sexual health care in the United States, Olson and 31 Republican colleagues requested a report from the Government Accountaility Office (GAO) on federal spending for organizations most experienced in providing the services and programs that yield the above-noted social and economic benefits.  Their purpose? To vilify the funding.

The recently released report, notes the GAO summary:

responds to [the Congressional] request for information on federal funds provided for fiscal years 2002 through 2009 to selected organizations involved in health-related activities and their affiliates: Advocates for Youth, the Guttmacher Institute, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Population Council, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

Reports reviewed included:

expenditures of federal funds that HHS agencies and offices and USAID provided both directly and indirectly to the selected organizations and their affiliates, as well as expenditures of funds provided directly and indirectly by federal agencies other than HHS and USAID, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provided grants totaling about $4.1 million to Planned Parenthood affiliates who reported such expenditures during the period of our review.

What was the conclusion?

“For fiscal years 2002 through 2009, the selected organizations and their affiliates in our review reported total expenditures of about $967 million in federal funds provided directly and indirectly.”

More than one-third of this amount, about $342 million, was reported as expenditures from an HHS program for family planning services.. Nearly all (about $942 million) of the reported expenditures were from programs administered by HHS and USAID; the remaining $25 million in reported expenditures were primarily from programs administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The nakedly ideological nature of this effort is underscored by the lack of any “smoking gun” in the GAO report, of which none was expected in any case. We all know the U.S. government provides public funding for basic reproductive and sexual health care, funding that enables people to protect their health, exercise their rights, and yields numerous social and economic outcomes. Reams of scientific data have been published on the benefits of these funds.  None of the funds, by law, are spent on abortion care, except in those circumstances in fact allowed by law, such as in cases of rape or incest, circumstances which in any case the anti-choice movement is ever-seeking to further restrict.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas said that their organization provides “crucial services to people in a city with the highest number of uninsured of any city in the nation.”

“None of the federal dollars received are used for abortion care,” Tafolla said. Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas that provide abortion services “are required to be separately incorporated from the entity that provides family planning services,” she said.

No news flash here.

But what the GAO report does do is allow these good gentleman–otherwise known as the people that love to hate Planned Parenthood–to further waste your own and my tax dollars and our time by trying to eliminate funding for Title X and related programs. They do so ostensibly because they feel they have a monopoly on “morality,” and find the thought of women planning their families to be a moral affront, while, for example, losing no sleep over concurrently defending British Petroleum and deepwater oil drilling as we witness the largest ecological catastrophe in this country’s history unfold before our eyes.  Olson, referred to by one of his constituents as an “oil-soaked congressman” for his reliance on campaign funds from the oil industry, has introduced a bill to lift the moratorium on deep water drilling.

Pence is one among several usual suspects, such as Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) and the Family Research Council, leading anti-choice fundamentalist colleagues in and outside of Congress in their newest effort to eliminate government funding for all forms of sexual and reproductive health care by introducing a bill entitled the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act. Their strategy appears to be taking a page from the health reform debate and all past efforts to equate contraceptive delivery with abortion and to draw equivalency between government-funded family planning services, and abortion care.  This completely bogus piece of “legislation” confirms what someone wrote on Twitter the other day, and I paraphrase: “The far right is the group that likes to complain government does not work, and then seeks office to prove the point.”  To put that in bold, Pence rails against abortion and defends BP in a single segment on Hardball with Chris Matthews.

The irony is that by fruit of their efforts to restrict women’s access to primary preventive care, these men and their comrades are likely responsible for more unintended pregnancies and abortions in the United States than any other single factor. Meanwhile they rabidly opposed and continue to oppose sane regulations that might have prevented the loss of lives from the explosion on the Horizon rig, and might have prevented the utter devastation we will see for decades to come in one of the richest ecosystems in this country.

I call all of this immoral.

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