Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, North America, Women's Health

U.S.: Women’s Health in Crosshairs of Republican Congress

Cléo Fatoorehchi

NEW YORK, Feb 18 2011 (IPS) - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking to eliminate the federal family planning programme and cut funding from Planned Parenthood, one of the country’s leading providers of reproductive health care to low-income women.

On Friday afternoon, the House voted to bar Planned Parenthood from all federal funding. The issue will go before the Senate in about two weeks’ time, and could still be reversed.

“This is the most dangerous legislative assault on women’s health in our history, and it cannot go unanswered,” said a statement by Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.

Women’s groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have denounced the move as jeopardising the lives of millions of people who depend on these services, which include preventive care, cancer screenings, contraceptive services, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

The Title X Family Planning Programme, part of the Public Health Service Act, was enacted by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970. With the adoption of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, none of the current 327 million dollars in federal funding can be allocated to abortion services.

However, Planned Parenthood does offer such services, using its own, non-federal funds.

The Republican-controlled lower chamber of Congress is now preparing to vote on several initiatives – the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act, the Protect Life Act, and the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act – as well as one that would slash the budget for Title X entirely.

“Pro-life Americans and all Americans should not be forced to subsidise America’s largest abortion provider or continue to provide federal taxpayer dollars to Title X clinics that engage in this abhorrent behaviour,” declared Rep. Chris Smith, sponsor of one of the acts.

Democrats are fighting back. In a letter addressed to the speaker of the House, John Boehner, on Feb. 11, 100 members of Congress pointed out, “Given that the law already requires women’s health centres to demonstrate that Title X funds are not used for abortion, this legislation is clearly intended to prevent Planned Parenthood and other women’s health centres from receiving this critical funding stream.”

Clare Coleman, executive director of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, told IPS that this is “because they [conservative Republicans] don’t believe that we should be funding contraceptive access for poor people”.

Most Title X programmes “take a range of funding sources”, from state and federal grants to private and commercial insurance, she noted.

According to a statement by the Planned Parenthood Federation, through its contraceptive services, the group helps prevent an estimated 612,000 unintended pregnancies every year.

While Republicans have attempted to put the focus on abortion services – in part using controversial undercover video footage from a Planned Parenthood facility – Coleman said they are out of step with the U.S. public on this issue.

“Americans’ attitude about whether or not women should be able to decide to have an abortion if they want to have been remarkably consistent since the early 1970s,” she noted. “Most people believe that preventing an unintended pregnancy is a good thing to do, and most people believe that a woman should have the right to choose abortion.”

“That stays relatively consistent over the past 35 years, but because of the political process, we very often have this debate on the floor of the House of Representatives,” she added.

Fifteen states now have completely anti-abortion governments, five more than in 2010, notes the Center for American Progress, and extreme anti-abortion measures are wending their way through state legislatures across the country, including one in South Dakota that would change the state’s justifiable homicide laws to allow murder in defence of an unborn child’s life – “an invitation to murder abortion providers,” says Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood, and other Title X recipients, offer services ranging far beyond abortions or even family planning. The ACLU notes that that “in 2009 alone, Title X providers performed 2.2 million Pap tests, 2.3 million breast exams, and over six million tests for sexually transmitted infections, including nearly one million HIV tests.”

Some Democrats say the House majority should focus on employment issues in the country, which are what matter most to their constituents.

“As I visit all the communities of my district, I am asked about high unemployment, how government can help promote job growth, and how we can get the economy working again for families trying to make ends meet,” said Rep. Nita Lowey.

The U.S. unemployment rate hit nine percent in January.

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