The eyes of the entire country have turned to Oklahoma this week in the wake of Monday's devastating tornado. The tornado tore through seventeen miles of ground, destroying homes, schools, and hospitals in its path. Twenty-four lives have been lost, including 10 children.
It is these kinds of tragic disasters that bring people together. As a physician, as a parent, as a state legislator who takes my oath to put my constituents interests first, I can't be silent when -- at a time of need for care, empathy, and community -- my colleagues in the Oklahoma state legislature are using the last days of session to further restrict Oklahoma women's access to health care. In these final days of session, my colleagues in the state legislature will consider multiple bills with the sole purpose of blocking women's access to preventive health care.
One is a bill that would block patients from accessing a range of preventive health care services from Planned Parenthood. Although the words 'Planned Parenthood' are never specifically mentioned in the legislation, it is worded in such a way to restrict the use of "any expenditures or grants of public funds for family planning or counseling services by the State of Oklahoma shall be made in the following order of priority." Their "priority" is such to effectively cut off all such funds that go to Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood health centers in Oklahoma provide crucial services such as breast and cervical cancer screenings. Planned Parenthood may be the only place where some patients, particularly those in the low income bracket, can obtain these life-saving cancer screening exams.
What's more, this isn't the first time the Oklahoma Legislature has targeted Planned Parenthood's patients. The proposal is similar to a bill that did not pass last session and, in addition, in late September 2012, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland received notification that the Oklahoma State Department of Health would eliminate funding for the WIC program at Planned Parenthood's health centers in Oklahoma. Planned Parenthood had providing nutrition education, counseling and vouchers for nutritious foods to nutritionally at-risk, low-income pregnant, post-partum and breastfeeding women, infants and children through the federally funded WIC program for more than 18 years.
Meanwhile, another bill would prevent Oklahoma from following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines allowing over-the-counter access to the emergency contraception pill without a prescription. The bill states "the 'morning-after pill' shall not be available to women under the age of seventeen without a prescription."
A young woman who makes a mistake and has unprotected intercourse, or the victim of rape, would have to see a physician in the office or emergency room in order to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. A $400 emergency room visit (plus physician fee) may be affordable to some, but certainly not all. Those women trying to escape the shackles of poverty may have their road of escape blocked by an unplanned pregnancy, while higher income ladies will have continued access to all types of contraception.
While the Oklahoma Legislature prides itself on its anti-abortion legislation, stopping funding to an organization that provides access to family planning to prevent unwanted pregnancies and putting obstacles between young women and safe, effective birth control methods make absolutely no sense. The best way to stop abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancies. In all of my years of medical practice I have never had a woman with a planned pregnancy ask me where she could go to end her pregnancy.
Why would a legislature that prides itself in promoting strong family values, in a state with a horrible child abuse problem, stop funding to an organization that provides teaching in parenting skills? Why would a legislature that promotes marriage and family living stop funding an organization that provides help to their clients in interpersonal relationships, child nutrition, and life skills? Why would politicians bar access to emergency contraception, which helps women plan stronger families?
Over the years Planned Parenthood has provided services that have helped the overall health and well being of Oklahoma's women and children. Their health centers have also provided valuable training sites for our medical students and resident physicians. The "morning after pill" has helped thousands of women prevent an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy, and perhaps an abortion.
I just cannot fathom why my colleagues in the legislature support this type of legislation. As a physician, I have a hard time with the advice, "Don't worry, it's just politics" -- especially at a time of such grave need for our constituents.
Doug Cox M.D. is a practicing physician serving as a Republican in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Delivering over 800 babies, he became familiar with Planned Parenthood during his training at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.