Op/Ed: GOP’s campaign of fear misleads the public on Title X
Organizations like Planned Parenthood are used to fighting political battles. After all, it has never been simple to legislate women’s reproductive rights, and the idea of women taking charge of their bodies and reproductive health makes some people uncomfortable. But in this latest attempt to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics, the far-right launched an all-out assault on reproductive rights and fair access to health care for low-income Americans. Though the Senate voted against the Pence Amendment, the contentious debate spawned a series of similar bills in states across the country.
Now, already-struggling clinics are scrambling to stay open and service their communities, simultaneously fighting for survival on the federal and state levels.
“Austerity” a red herring
Conservative idealogues have long been steadfast opponents of Planned Parenthood’s mission to provide vital health services to millions of men and women nationwide. And during the most recent federal budget debate, the conservative majority in the House went after its funding in the name of austerity and have been twisting facts ever since. Similar to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, conservatives are riding on the federal budget crisis to push through an agenda that targets women, minorities and low income workers.
At 27 Planned Parenthood health centers in Wisconsin, low-income people without health insurance can receive cancer screenings, contraception, STD testing and treatment, pap smears and mammograms, all at little or no cost. The advocacy arm of the organization works to ensure that students receive comprehensive sex education, teaching both abstinence and basic prevention. In 2010, over 73,000 patients received care from one of Planned Parenthood’s Wisconsin health centers, making it the largest provider of reproductive health care in the state.
Taxpayer-funded abortion is a myth
But according to some lawmakers, Planned Parenthood is all about taxpayer-funded abortion. Never mind that this is legally impossible: by law, Title X funds cannot be used for abortion services. And lawmakers like Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) perpetuate the myth. Kyl recently made an egregiously false statement regarding Planned Parenthood’s services on the floor of the Senate, then had it stricken from the Congressional record because it “wasn’t meant to be a factual statement.” He had claimed that 90% of PP’s funding was dedicated to abortion services.
In fact, no tax dollars fund Planned Parenthood’s abortion services, in Wisconsin or anywhere in the United States. Abortion centers (and there are three operated by PP in Wisconsin) are entirely funded by private donors. Further, abortions account for three percent of services offered at Planned Parenthood. The other 97 % is devoted to preventative and reproductive health care
So the Pence Amendment would have made it nearly impossible for clinics to provide the preventative services that are their primary reason for existence. Meanwhile, privately funded abortion centers would have remained intact, and most likely would have seen an increase in requests for service, since millions of women would no longer be able to afford birth control.
Who needs a doctorate when you have a cause?
If austerity is truly the reason for defunding Planned Parenthood, it’s baffling that the special interest groups which back anti-choice laws also want to take away access to contraception and comprehensive sex education in schools. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to realize that contraceptive use prevents unplanned pregnancy and, in turn, abortion.
A 2008 study by the Guttmacher Institute shows that access to Title X-supported services prevented over 900,000 unplanned pregnancies and more than 400,000 abortions nationally in that year. According to the study, without these services in Wisconsin, the number of abortions performed each year would be 42% higher, and teen pregnancies would increase by 36%.
And the same report states that access to family planning services saved tax payers $3.4 billion in 2008.
Considering abortion as birth control
Despite evidence to the contrary, some still want you to believe that abortion clinics have revolving doors and women are casually using it as a form of birth control.
Let’s take a moment to consider the idea.
Contraception is relatively cheap. Condoms run a few dollars per box, and most health clinics hand them out for free. For women on the Family Planning Waiver, the pill or the ring are often free or very inexpensive. Plus, they’re easy to use, and 98% effective when used properly.
To receive an abortion, a woman will have to go through several consultations before she is allowed to make an appointment. This gives her time to evaluate her decision and, if she wishes to continue, get her finances in order. She’ll pay around $400 out of pocket, due at time of service. She’ll also have to take off at least one day from work and/or school. Depending on where she lives, she may have to travel to a different city, which could be hours away. Someone will have to go with her, and that person will also have to miss work or school. Depending on the procedure, the process can be physically painful.
The point: abortion is not cheap, and it’s not easy. It’s not a casual part of an afternoon’s errands, and it’s not a decision most women take lightly.
And while we’re being reasonable, let’s all just agree on one thing: people have sex, and no abundance or lack of family planning resources is going to change that. No amount of abstinence education or a religious or moral code can change it, either. With that in mind, people need affordable, safe access to resources to help them make healthy, informed decisions.
Yes, it’s personal
I firmly believe that information kills fear, and teaching a child (or an adult, for that matter) about their bodies and the potential consequences of their actions teaches them to make better decisions. Coming from an intense evangelical Christian background, I also know that such information is not always readily available. The only sex talk I ever got was, quite literally, “don’t do it.” My mother couldn’t even explain the joys of menstruation to me. Luckily (and surprisingly), I attended a progressive high school that gave me the straight facts about sex, pregnancy, STDs and everything I was never going to hear from my parents.
Planned Parenthood picked up where my health teacher left off. In fact, the first real, honest sex talk I ever received came from a nurse at a clinic in my hometown, who sat an answered my most embarrassing and depraved questions professionally and without judgment. I am not being melodramatic when I say that the experience changed my life. Because of Planned Parenthood, I’ve never had to choose between paying the rent or paying for a needed exam. Because of Planned Parenthood, I’m healthy and empowered.
So you might say that I take this attack personally, and I know many women who feel the same way. More than 70,000 men, women and teens in Wisconsin have benefited from Planned Parenthood just in the last 12 months, and over 100,000 across the state rely on the same services from other clinics that receive Title X funding. Nationwide, millions more count on those funds for basic care.
But it seems conservative ideologues don’t care about the big picture. They only care about the fetus – until it’s born, that is. Many of the same politicians (including our own Governor Scott Walker) who wish to defund family planning clinics also want to gut programs that provide health insurance to low-income families and single parents. So while praise is lavished for going through with the pregnancy, good luck feeding, clothing and raising that unplanned child. Or finishing high school with a toddler on your hip. Or finding meaningful employment so you can pay for daycare.
This is not about balancing the budget. It’s not about protecting women or children. It is about securing elections. It is about leglislating narrow religious beliefs in an effort to please a growing group of fundamentalists and the benefactors who back them. And if it succeeds, it is a sad chapter in the history of human rights.