Why Defunding Planned Parenthood Will Bankrupt America
Picture this. You (or your wife or sister or best friend or girlfriend) are 22 weeks into a high risk pregnancy when your water breaks, and there’s absolutely no chance the fetus will live. If you go ahead and deliver anyway you face the risk of serious infection along with the trauma of watching your baby die. In the past you might have opted for induced labor or an abortion (never an easy decision, nor one made carelessly, but pretty necessary given the circumstances), but now induced labor with no chance of saving the fetus is considered abortion and given you’re in a state where all abortions are illegal after 20 weeks, you’re out of luck. You deliver, the baby struggles to breathe and is dead within fifteen minutes, and you’re on intravenous antibiotics for the subsequent infection that develops. Sound unheard of in our good ole’ US of A? It happened last year in Nebraska.
Or maybe you’ve been the victim of rape or incest. Maybe it was nothing more dire than a broken condom or missed pill. Maybe you did everything you could possibly do to take care of yourself, and you still got pregnant. And for whatever reason (and really, your reasons are no one’s business but your own) you can’t go through with the pregnancy. What happens next?
It’s been barely three months since we were facing the very real possibility of a federal shutdown. And shockingly, it wasn’t over jobs or the economy, but sex and a woman’s right to choose the best course of action for her own life. It was about undermining a woman’s very basic right to safe, affordable, and accurate health care. The right to contraceptive services, sex education, STI and HIV testing, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and prenatal care. And of course, the right to abortion.
Here’s the thing—and this seems to get lost amidst a lot of self-aggrandizing conservative rhetoric and moralistic hand-wringing—abortion is safe. Safer than giving birth, even!—and one of the most common medical procedures in the country. What’s more, what’s absolutely huge, in fact, is that every public dollar spent on family planning services actually saves three dollars in Medicaid costs for what would otherwise have gone to expensive pre and neonatal care. Teen pregnancy actually cost U.S. taxpayers almost $11 billion in 2008—not a fact you hear the GOP spouting on the House floor. Eleven billion dollars. That’s a hell of a lot of money that, if it wasn’t simply going down the drain, we might be able to use to fund all kinds of good stuff like our public school systems, or literacy programs, or even smart and savvy sex education so those aforementioned teenage baby mamas actually have the resources and knowledge at their disposal to—wait for it—have safe, respectful, exciting sex and not get pregnant! Novel, I know.
But then we have stand-up guys like New Hampshire executive councilor Raymond Wieczorek saying he’s not going to pay for our “condom parties” (though he definitely doesn’t like abortions either), which pretty much means low-income women lose access to contraception, and hey, now we have more babies the state needs to help support. Given the GOP is all about shrinking spending, this doesn’t seem super logical.
Jill Krowinski, the Public Affairs Director of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, summarized the situation aptly when she told me in an email interview, “[These] legislative attacks place political ideology over basic health care, putting the lives of millions of women and families at risk…these attacks are bad health policy, bad fiscal policy, and bad politics.”
It should also be said that the Hyde Amendment has prohibited federal funds from going towards abortion services for the past thirty years, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger. 97% of the services Planned Parenthood offers have nothing to do with abortion at all; rather, they provide vital family planning and reproductive health resources, and are oftentimes the only provider millions of women have access to, whether because of their geographical location or socio-economic status.
However, the Hyde Amendment might as well be written in fairy dust given the rabid fervor with which anti-choice politicians and activists have proposed restrictive state legislation this season. Nearly 1,000 bills of varying absurdity (testifying fetus, anyone?) have made their way onto dockets across the U.S., with no state being spared, though a few have been hit particularly hard—Indiana, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, and South Dakota among them.
In Texas, where family planning saved the state $161,738,000 in 2008, and Title X-supported programs offered contraceptive services to nearly 1.5 million women, because of mandatory “Right to Know” legislation, women are provided with largely unsubstantiated information, such as there being a link between breast cancer and abortion (The American Cancer Society resoundingly disputes this), as well as being subjected to a 24-hour waiting period before undergoing the procedure.
Sarah McKetta, a former Planned Parenthood of Texas employee, noted that despite these requirements being filed under “education/right to know,” they were often little more than barriers to keep women from easily obtaining abortions.
“Women who wanted to make an abortion appointment had thought good and hard about it before picking up the phone to call us,” she said. “What these laws effectively did was make the most disadvantaged women have the hardest time, because they usually needed time to come up with the funding and to come up with childcare for their other children, and then they call to make the appointment and realize that they still have to wait.”
Indiana has gone so far as to ban all state Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood—an illegal move which has been challenged by both Medicaid and the Obama Administration, since federal law requires all those eligible for Medicaid to be able to access services from any qualified provider, including Planned Parenthood. If Indiana persists with the legislation, the state will be cut off from all Medicaid funding, a loss amounting to roughly $4 billion in aid, and one that would disproportionally screw the state’s poorest residents.
Incidentally, Indiana is currently ranked 49th in the nation in terms of providing contraceptive services, and it has the 31st highest teen pregnancy rate, according to the Guttmacher Institute. More than half of all Indiana births are paid for by Medicaid, and even then, teen childbearing cost Indiana taxpayers $3.6 billion between 1991-2004.
Wisconsin recently jumped on the “defund Planned Parenthood” bandwagon, despite the fact that this would effectively cut off health care access to 12,000 women while simultaneously threatening the state’s BadgerCare family planning program, which actually saves nearly $140 million a year. North Carolina made a similar decision earlier in the summer. And with Mr. Wieczorek at the helm, New Hampshire is the newest state to join the club—and after only a few days, women are already having trouble getting access to antibiotics to treat UTI’s and STD’s. Bravo, guys! Family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood only saved your state 183,505,000 in public funds in 2008.
“This goes way beyond Planned Parenthood itself,” Ms. Krowinski noted, calling the legislation an “assault on all progressive health care, service, and advocacy organizations that aim to provide vital care and services to women and men across the country” and a “clearly coordinated, highly political effort designed to undermine one of our nation’s largest women’s health care providers — with dangerous implications for women and families.”
“Women are not idiots who need legislators to make health decisions for them,” Ms. McKetta agreed. “Can you imagine if someone was putting all of these barriers up for every man who wanted to get a vasectomy (which, by the way, is a much more invasive procedure than abortion that takes a longer time to heal and actually DOES impact fertility, unlike abortion)?…No, you can’t imagine it. Because this boils down to an affront on women’s health.”
And the best way to counter the crazy, you may ask? (And you should be!)
Start by speaking out, and especially talk to your elected officials, urged Tait Sye, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in a telephone interview.
He cited a recent CNN poll that suggested 65% of Americans—a significant percentage—recognize the valued services Planned Parenthood provides for men, women, and teens, and support continued funding for the organization.
Ms. Krowinski also urged the public to speak out, noting, “When women tell their stories about how Planned Parenthood was there for them, it helps legislators understand the critical role we play in their communities for women and families.”
She went on to relate a story involving a Planned Parenthood patient at the West Lebanon Health Center in New Hampshire, who had gone to the drug store to get pills, only to learn that they were $100 a pack, more than she could afford. “The patient was told that with Title X we could slide her pills down to $0 and we would take any donation she could give us. The patient pulled out her wallet and counted out $1.35 and said it’s not much, but you can have it.”
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