Owing largely to rapid advancements in biomedical research and increased public health efforts, the state of sexual and reproductive health in the U.S. has made great improvements in recent years.
Here’s some of the good news: according to the American Cancer Society, breast, cervical and uterine cancers now have five-year survival rates of more than 90 percent when detected in the earliest stage. Many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia and gonorrhea, are curable, and all of them are treatable. Contraceptives such as birth control pills have a failure rate of less than one percent, at least when utilized correctly.
Here’s the catch: Early detection of the aforementioned cancers depends heavily on the commitment to annual exams, and birth control and STI testing can cost hundreds of dollars a year without health insurance or a public option — and with more than 50 million Americans currently living without health coverage, those public options are becoming more vital than ever.
Unfortunately, with the proposed cuts to Title X, the part of the Public Health Service Act that outlines federal funding allocations for family planning services, these financial hurdles will become more apparent than ever — and the state of public sexual and reproductive health will suffer as a result.
The House proposal, led by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., not only moves to cut the $75 million of federal funding given to Planned Parenthood — a sum that comprises a third of the organization’s total budget — but seeks to reallocate the entirety of the $317 million reserved for similar programs supported by Title X.
Pence has pointed to videos of a Planned Parenthood employee speaking with a man sent in under cover by anti-abortion rights group Live Nation, who was asking about obtaining services for underage prostitutes. While the video is unsettling, one employee’s over-adherence to patient confidentially standards hardly proves “a pattern of apparent fraud and abuse,” as Pence insisted, according to an article in last Thursday’s New York Times.
Considering that representatives of Planned Parenthood have criticized the tapes as being “misleading” and have called them “dirty tricks,” pointing fingers to this instance seems like little more than an underhand attempt to discredit all similar organizations and distract the public from recognizing the overhwelmingly positive work that they do.
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards has aptly referred to these proposals as “the most dangerous legislative assault on women’s health in Planned Parenthood’s 95-year history.” But the cuts will not affect only women. While Planned Parenthood provides birth control services and annual women’s health exams, the organization also provides STI testing, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and Hepatitis vaccinations and patient education and counseling, services that are useful and necessary for any sexually active individual.
In fact, abortion services only comprise three percent of total services provided by Planned Parenthood according to its website, with more than 90 percent aimed instead toward birth control and testing services. Such measures emphasize prevention, education and personal responsibility - cornerstones of public health that are largely ignored in our country’s current health care model.
These organizations operate with open doors, serving millions of people each year. Programs funded by Title X also largely serve low-income populations. Planned Parenthood accepts Medicaid, and patients pay for services based on a sliding-fee scale depending on income or if they are students — a commendable system that, realistically, should be promoted, not dissolved.
Finally, the proposals to cut Title X as a part of the 2011 spending bill are a step in the wrong direction. According to the Guttermacher Institute, which researches trends and makes predictive statistics, “by helping women avoid unintended pregnancies, Title X-supported family planning centers saved taxpayers $3.4 billion in 2009” — this translates into nearly $4 saved for every $1 that is spent on contraception.
The conservative leaders’ ignorance of the importance of these programs bears heavily upon our society. A 2002 paper published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health by Jones, et al., found that the abortion rate for poor women was more than four times that for high-income women. This discrepancy reflects similar differences in pregnancy rates, and these trends had continually worsened in the decade preceding the publication of the study.
It’s not difficult to pinpoint a reason. Statistics released from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) noted that the drop in contraceptive use since the late 1990s could be attributed almost singularly to low-income populations. Title X and organizations that are funded by the act provide necessary choices for women who would otherwise be unable to afford such services. If funding for public options are continually slashed, divides will only continue to widen, and any progress made since will be erased.
Upon review, Pence’s misguided proposals seem like little more than a systematic attempt to deny resources and assistance to a demographic of women that needs them the most. It is nothing short of disgusting.
This is why, along with 86 percent of respondents to a 2010 poll conducted by the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, I support Title X, and I stand with Planned Parenthood against this legislative assault on women and public health.
Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College junior from Atlanta.