The fight for women’s rights is receiving more political and media attention in recent months than my young intern brain can ever remember. It is no longer just controversy over abortion; the issue has reached draconian levels, striving to make contraception part of the debate. Republicans are using the budget deficit as an excuse to attack government funded family planning services, mainly Title X. At its roots, the hostility towards women’s health has absolutely nothing to do with saving lives or cutting the budget, but everything to do with race and gender. Without government-supported access to family planning centers, millions of poor women, a majority Hispanic and black, would be left without an entry point into the health care system.
Just this week, North Carolina became the third state in the country to pass legislation cutting family planning funding; while in Minnesota Planned Parenthood was forced to close 6 clinics because of Title X cuts which were made this spring.
From a health care viewpoint, these cuts make little sense and from an economic standpoint, they make none.
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Publicly funded family planning services save money—a lot of money. In 2008 alone, Title X-supported clinics saved the states and federal government $3.4 billion in medical costs that otherwise would be paid by Medicaid. These clinics provide contraception to one-fourth of all poor women in the United States, helping to avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies each year. As it stands unintended pregnancy alone costs the US $11 billion a year. The Guttmacher Institute reports that without Title X services, these costs would be 60 percent higher and the numbers of unintended pregnancies and abortions would be nearly two-thirds higher than they currently are among women overall including teens.
In addition, Title X-supported centers provide STI counseling, testing and treatment services. They are often women’s only source of critical preventive health care services including Pap tests to detect cervical cancer and breast exams to detect warning signs of breast cancer. These cancers are treatable when detected early, but when left undiagnosed, can be deadly.
The Democrats need to step up to the plate and call family planning funding what it is: an investment. It is an investment in the health and well-being of our families, our economy and the next generation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called family planning “one of the 10 great health achievements of the 20th Century.” Every dollar invested in helping women avoid unintended pregnancies saves $4.02 in Medicaid expenditures that would otherwise be needed for pregnancy-related care.
Among the lawmakers in favor of completely de-funding Title X is Michelle Bachmann. In regards to Planned Parenthood, her press secretary, Becky Rogness, stated Monday, “Taxpayer funds should not be directed to this heinous organization, especially at a time when our nation’s debt exceeds $14 trillion.” The fiscal-austerity rhetoric is popular and pervasive, but if Bachmann really believes that cutting the $300 million provided to Title X funding in 2010 will solve the budget crisis, I have a boat I’d like to sell her.
Meanwhile, people love contraception! It’s single-handedly one of the most popular inventions of all time. Ninety-eight percent of American women have used birth control at some point in their lives. A recent poll from Lake Research Partners finds that 84 percent of Americans believe family planning services, including birth control and contraception, are important to basic preventive health care services and 67 percent express intensity around this idea.
So what does this mean?
Well, for starters it means that Title X continues to only not make sense in the right-wing’s imagination. In reality, the program prevents unintended pregnancies, teenage pregnancies and abortions. This in turn saves the federal government billions of dollars in Medicaid costs.
The intermingling of the budget debate and anti-choice campaign are not really about right-to-life or cutting spending at all. It’s about attacking women’s rights: their right to contraception, to protect themselves, to decide when and if they want a child, and to act responsibly as equal citizens. Hillary Clinton once stated, “Women must enjoy the rights to participate fully in the social and political lives of their countries, if we want freedom and democracy to thrive and endure”. In order for women to participate in education and the workforce, they first and foremost need the right to safely and effectively control their fertility. Linking contraception to abortion illustrates the extent to which policymakers are willing to go in order to attack women’s rights.
Although the Obama camp won’t admit it, Pelosi’s dead on: there is a war against women happening.