DN Editorial: Congress attacking reproductive medicine

Posted: February 23, 2011

THE CURRENT ASSAULT on Planned Parenthood isn't about abortion; it isn't even about Planned Parenthood, really. Instead, it's a full-out attack on women's health services, especially birth control.

And the outcome is very much in doubt.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 240-185 on Friday to deny Planned Parenthood clinics the federal funding they need to provide critical health-care services -things like medical exams, contraception, cancer screenings and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases - because Planned Parenthood uses private money to provide access to safe abortions. (Strict accounting procedures guarantee that taxpayer money is kept separate from funds that go toward abortion.)

But just a few hours later, many of the very same members of Congress voted to end all funding for family planning health services under Title X of the Public Health Act, even services provided by clinics that don't perform abortions.

Embedded in the continuing budget resolution passed by Congress about 4 a.m. on Saturday was a provision that zeroes out all money -$317 million - to implement Title X, the Nixon-era program that provides birth control and other services to about 5 million women and men each year.

Here in Pennsylvania, Title X programs provided contraceptives to 254,000 people last year, and almost 264,000 received tests for sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea. In addition, about 76,000 screening tests for cervical cancer and almost 26,000 tests for HIV were performed.

If the funding for these programs were to disappear, it's a cinch that the 301,000 Pennsylvanians who use them annually wouldn't. And neither would their cancers or STDs.

Depending on how you count, there are three, four, even nine bills in Congress that take direct aim at reproductive rights. Among them: a bill that would deny tax credits for businesses that offer health-insurance plans covering abortion; another that would allow a "conscience exception" to a hospital to refuse an abortion to a woman even if her life were in danger; another that would outlaw abortion by interpreting the 14th Amendment as offering equal protection for the "preborn."

And yet conservatives in Congress want to reduce publicly funded family planning services that, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, prevent 1.94 million unintended pregnancies per year. According to its report, without publicly-funded contraception - including Title X services, as well as Medicaid-funded birth control provided by private doctors - the U.S. abortion rate would be nearly two-thirds higher than it now is. Apparently, being a conservative Republican means never having to be internally consistent.

Could zeroing out funding for Title X signal a new tactic in the war against contraception? Most Americans use birth control, so those who oppose contraception don't dare attack it directly. Instead, they have tried to pass it off as a crusade against abortion, with limited success.

Now, it appears, they also are attempting to hide their intentions behind a supposed concern for the federal deficit. But consider: the cut to Title X funding in the continuing resolution covers fiscal year 2011, which is nearly half over, so the supposed savings are minuscule. Besides, preventing unintended pregnancies is one of the most efficient uses of government money there is: $4 in taxpayer savings for every $1 spent.

Nancy Pelosi calls the last few weeks the most radical assault on women's health in our lifetime. Sounds like a call to action. *

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