Don’t let Republicans kill family planning

Countless people added their names to an open letter to Congress in response to the House of Representatives’ decision to withhold federal funding to Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides cancer screening, HIV testing and birth control, among other forms of care. In it, I, and the many others who signed their names, demanded answers to the following questions:

“How could you?

“How could you betray millions of women — and men, and teens — who rely on Planned Parenthood for basic health care?

“How could you condemn countless women in this country to undiagnosed cancer, unintended pregnancies, and untreated illnesses?”

It is frustrating that one of the first bills passed in the Republican House undermines women’s access to health care. Right now, because of increasing costs and a struggling economy, women and families are facing difficulties in accessing health care. This bill will make matters worse.

For nearly 95 years Planned Parenthood has been the leader in providing women and men with health care and preventive services. Each year, three million Americans rely on Planned Parenthood clinics for their health care.

The Title X Family Planning Program, signed into law 40 years ago by President Richard Nixon, was a monumental step forward in public health and social justice in this country. Planned Parenthood and other responsible health care providers annually prevent one million unintended pregnancies through clinics funded by Title X. The work that goes on at these clinics saves lives by focusing on preventive care like annual exams, cancer screening, contraception, testing for sexually transmitted infections and family planning services. These are necessary health services, and many people have nowhere else to go for the help they need. Republicans seem not to care that, for many women, this is their only service provider. Over 85 percent of women who visit Title X−funded clinics live at or just above the poverty line. They cannot afford anywhere else for the attention they need. Over 60 percent of them receive their basic services — services you or I might get at a doctor’s office — at these clinics.

President Nixon is not known for being liberal, but he signed Title X into law because Republicans used to care about providing for impoverished Americans, and he realized that this program makes economic sense. It saves the government about $3.74 for each dollar it invests.

Republican extremists think this is a bad idea. Rep. Mike Pence (R−Ind.) introduced legislation that would effectively end women’s access to crucial health services by denying health centers across the country federal funding through the Title X program. Right−wing extremists are not only willing to kill family planning and basic health services for the five million women served by Title X, but they offer no suggestion as to how to provide these services without it. In her Feb. 4 New York Times column, Gail Collins distilled their attitude toward women in its essence: She mockingly said “Let them use leeches” should be Republican congressmen’s slogan for 2011. House Republicans clearly seem to oppose a woman’s fundamental right to self−determination.

The 235 Republicans and Democrats who voted in favor of Rep. Pence’s ideologically indefensible bill are out of touch. Ending funding to Title X would leave millions of women without access to the health care they depend on. Rather than save this country money, the bill would raise the risk of unintended pregnancy and undetected cancer, thereby putting more of a burden on individual families and on the system as a whole.

The obvious goal in this legislation is not to save money, but to prevent people from accessing reproductive health care services. Planned Parenthood spends 90 percent of its budget offering preventive care and education. Its doctors annually perform over one million cervical cancer screenings and 830,000 breast exams. Nearly 2.5 million Americans receive contraception from Planned Parenthood, and 4 million are tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections at Planned Parenthood clinics. Planned Parenthood is an essential health care provider in this country. Ask your friends if they’ve received care at Planned Parenthood. Chances are good that they have. One in five women will receive care from Planned Parenthood at some point in their lives.

Republicans think all of this is dangerous. Really? More than letting millions of women go without care? There is a coordinated and highly political effort brought about by fundamentalists to undermine Planned Parenthood and women’s access to health care. One of the tactics by a group opposed to Planned Parenthood has been to send people posing as clients into health centers and secretly video the visits to try to set up some sort of violation. This deceptive practice has not gained much ground. Rep. Pence, however, recently went on one of these extreme groups’ webcasts to tout the damage his bill was about to do. Republicans are proud of their efforts, but we can show them that we don’t like what they’re doing. Although this destructive legislation passed in the House last week, we have a chance to make sure it goes no further. Tell your senators to stop the attack on women.

Americans want Congress to focus on creating jobs and fixing the economy, not pushing an extreme ideological agenda that would take health care away from women. Nevertheless, the House leadership is also pushing two other bills against women’s health that would burden the system even further.

A bill introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R−N.J.) would take private health−insurance coverage away from millions of American women. Small businesses would no longer be able to deduct the costs of providing health−insurance coverage if the coverage includes abortion. There would be no provision for a situation where an abortion is needed to save the life of the mother.

American women — and men — have depended on Planned Parenthood for almost a century. This bill would clearly reduce access to needed services. Let’s make sure this bill goes no further so that we are able to depend on Planned Parenthood for another century.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R−P.A.) has sponsored a bill to prevent state health insurance exchanges from including carriers that offer abortion coverage, even where women pay for it themselves. This ban goes too far. It would prevent women from obtaining insurance coverage for a legal medical procedure just because some people do not think women deserve to have control over their own bodies.

Planned Parenthood has proudly served American women and men for the past 95 years, and will do so well into the future, with your help. You have a chance to make sure this disastrous legislation does not become law by sharing your opinion with your senators. Please call and urge them to vote to protect women! The Capitol switchboard can be reached at (202) 224−3121. Or send a letter from www.ppaction.org/TitleX.

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