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Don't Let Them Kill Family Planning!

Richard Nixon may not be the first name most people associate with women's health and reproductive rights. But as the assault on women heats up in Congress this week, I'm starting to think of the Nixon era as an age of enlightenment.
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Richard Nixon may not be the first name most people associate with women's health and reproductive rights. But as House Republicans ramp up their unprecedented assault on women this week, I'm starting to think of the Nixon era as an age of enlightenment. The Title X Family Planning -program, which Nixon signed into law in 1970, is one of this country's great achievements in public health and social justice. Clinics funded through Title X now prevent nearly a million unintended pregnancies every year. They save women's lives through cancer screening, immunization and blood-pressure testing. Publicly supported family planning even saves the government money -- $3.74 for every dollar invested.

To the extremists now running the House of Representatives, this is somehow bad news. The Republican majority's FY 2011 continuing resolution to fund the federal government, released this week by the appropriations committee, would end all federal support for the Title X program. The continuing resolution is the latest in a series of Republican assaults on women's rights and health. Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Joseph Pitts (R-PA), and Mike Pence (R-IN) are all pushing bills that shred basic health care in their zeal to restrict access to women's health, including abortion. The Pence bill would gut the Title X program by defunding any health center that provides abortion services -- even though Title X has never paid for a single abortion. Pence has mounted a heartless, even vicious, assault on the millions of women who rely on Title X clinics for primary health care. Yet the appropriations bill is even harsher. It would simply kill the whole program..

Title X's bedrock role in women's health care is due in large part to Planned Parenthood -- the sole provider of Title X services in some states. Our health centers provide family planning care to more than a third of the five million women served by Title X, and our services play a critical role in reducing unintended pregnancies, decreasing infant mortality, and detecting cancer at early stages, when there is a better chance of treating effectively. Altogether, Planned Parenthood's 800-plus health centers provided care to about three million patients in 2009. The services they delivered include not only family planning and contraception but also breast and pelvic exams, cervical cancer screening, testing for sexually transmitted infections, post-partum care, and community initiatives to help teens stay healthy.

These aren't niche services that supplement to people's regular health care. More than six out every ten women who receive care in a Title X family-planning health center say it's their main source of health care --not a supplement, but a lifeline. That's because 85 percent of them live at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, and two thirds lack health insurance. What do the House Republicans have in mind for these women and families? Gail Collins distilled their attitude beautifully in a recent New York Times column: "Let Them Use Leeches."

My question (one that Nixon might ask) is: What are you guys thinking? For a modest $327 million a year, the Title X program improves health, saves lives, empowers women, and combats poverty and saves the government nearly four times what it costs. Title X funding has already shrunk by 62 percent since 1980, even though the population has grown and the cost of labor and supplies has risen. And now you want to kill it. If healing the economy is your key objective, how exactly does destroying this program advance it? Five million women need to know, and so do the voters who sent you to Washington to get the economy back on track. A recent Hart Research poll showed that that 71 percent of all voters, including 60 percent of those who voted for a Republican candidate for Congress in 2010, opposed Pence's effort to exclude full-service clinics from Title X. The push to defund the program is a blunt attack on women -- and a betrayal of the public trust.