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Defend Women’s Health

March 12, 2012 By Meg Reid, Undergraduate Research Fellow

The “contraception controversy” has exploded this month, as the government decides whether or not religiously affiliated organizations should have to cover contraception to their female employees without co-pays. It’s a complex debate and an important question, but the struggle for women’s reproductive health and reproductive rights goes far beyond this one ruling. Family planning services, contraception, and abortion rights are threatened, and if women’s rights are not protected, we’ll see huge public health and economic impacts.

Family planning services, which include not only access to contraception but also pregnancy testing, screenings for breast and cervical cancer, gynecological exams, and treatment for STIs, are being cut across the country. Montana, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Texas have all made recent, significant cuts to these services. Some states are targeting specific institutions that provide these services; Wisconsin, North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, and Texas have all moved to block Planned Parenthood from funding because it also provides abortions, even though state dollars don’t go towards abortions. More states are moving forward on similar measures.

Take the example of Texas. The state cut family planning by two thirds in October. Shortly after, half of state-supported family planning clinics had closed. Now conservatives want to cut the Women’s Health Program, which covers over 100,000 low-income Texas women. They would rather sacrifice the health of these women than fund Planned Parenthood.

At the same time, reproductive-age women are more and more likely to be uninsured. Research from the University of Minnesota found that a quarter of women between the ages of 18 and 49 had gaps in insurance, and 10 percent of pregnant women were uninsured. In 2009, the Guttmacher Institute found that 23 percent of mid- to low-income women had difficulty paying for birth control, and 24 percent put off a visit to the gynecologist. A lot of women aren’t receiving the help they need to afford contraception and prenatal care—and their children could face poor birth outcomes. And yet across the nation, conservatives are making it more difficult for these women to access care.

That’s not all. There’s lots of evidence showing that contraception saves women and taxpayers money. Contraception allows women to delay childbearing, so they can invest in their education and careers. Historically, this not only helped individual women but also resulted in a huge economic impact as more women joined the workforce. One study showed that the pill alone accounted for 30 percent of the convergence of men’s and women’s salaries between 1990 and 2000. And according to the Atlantic, the rise of women in the workplace contributed almost 2 percent per year to GDP growth. Contraceptives are saving money today, too. A study from the Brookings Center on Children and Families found that expanding family planning through Medicaid—a $235 million investment possible through the Affordable Care Act—would save taxpayers a whopping $1.32 billion. Why are we fighting family planning?

The right to choose is also facing great challenges. Last month’s controversy in Virginia over requiring women who seek abortions to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound was only the beginning: similar noninvasive bills are pending in several states and Texas has been enforcing transvaginal ultrasounds since last year. Florida wants to instate a 24-hour waiting period after ultrasound, Utah is pushing a 72-hour waiting period, Oklahoma wants to require women to listen to the sounds of the fetus’ heartbeat, and South Dakota wants to mandate counseling at crisis-pregnancy centers.

Two proposed bills in Minnesota would require new, expensive licensing and inspections for all clinics that provide 10 or more abortions per month, and would require a doctor’s presence for the administration of abortion-inducing drugs. This effectively shuts down a program started by Planned Parenthood to give patients in rural areas easier access to medication abortions, which use a pill to induce early abortion. The program allows a trained health care professional to administer the drug if a doctor is present via videoconferencing. The drugs in question are associated with fewer deaths than Tylenol or Viagra, and yet these proposed bills make it ever harder for patients to access them. “Make no mistake, this bill is not about protecting women or saving lives,” said Karen Law, executive director of Pro-Choice Resources in Minneapolis, “This is a whittling away at abortion access for women.”

Even as they try to strip services and rights, conservatives attack woman. We’ve had Rush Limbaugh on one side label Sandra Fluke a “slut,” Bob Morris of Indiana call the Girl Scouts of America “a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood,” and Foster Freiss tell us “gals” to put aspirin between our knees. Don’t even get me started on Rick Santorum.

Something needs to change, and we can make it happen here. Minnesota does not need to follow in the footsteps of the states mentioned here. We can take Minnesota in a different direction. Instead of cutting family planning services, let’s bolster funding and pass contraceptive equity. Instead of threatening a woman’s right to choose, let’s support organizations like Planned Parenthood and secure the right of a woman to seek an abortion if she chooses. We need to stand by our commitment to women’s health and reproductive rights.

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  • Travis Henderson says:

    March 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    As a social moderate, this article seems offensive and poorly reasoned.

    You vilify conservatives, and seemingly anyone who is pro-life, by comparing them to extremists such as Rush Limbaugh.  By the same logic, why not vilify all muslims because extremists are responsible for 9/11.  You’re generalizations are absurd and offensive.

    Next, you don’t seem to consider that abortion is a highly controversial subject. Why exactly should the government force people to fund services (taxes) that they feel are immoral?  This doesn’t seem right.

    Furthermore, this article is ignorant to the economics of a budget constraints. Say, for example, the USFG gives planned parenthood one million dollars in additional to the one million dollars Planned Parenthood has.  So, Planned Parenthood has a budget constraint of two million dollars. At current levels, for the sake of the example, planned parenthood spends half of it’s budget on abortions and half on other health services. The law, of course, stipulates that no state money can be used for abortions (for the reasons outlined in the previous paragraph). So one might think, that 1.5 million would be used on “other health services” But that’s not how it goes—instead planned parenthood shifts all its initial budget to abortions, and all the government money to other health services to maximize their production iso-quants (a 50:50 ratio). Therefore, if only indirectly, the government subsidizes abortions when they give money to Planned Parenthood. As mentioned above, it doesn’t make sense for citizens, especially such a great number, to be forced to pay for something they deem immoral—which is exactly what happens when the government funds planned parenthood.

    The policy you recommend neglects this important distinction. According to a recent gallup poll, the country is exactly split on abortion. In this case, it doesn’t seem to be governments place to take a stance on morality issues. In fact, when the state subsidizes abortion, it artificially incentivizes abortion creating a sub-optimal level of abortions.  At the very worst, if people want freedom from government morals, they shouldn’t tax others according to their own morality. Abortion funding is a contradiction: People want freedom from government telling them what they should do with their bodies, but then at the same time they also want government to force others to go against their own morality by funding abortion.  A case can be made for legalizing abortion, but it’s ridiculous for government to fund them.

  • Amy says:

    March 13, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Travis, “a case can be made for legalizing abortions”?  Well that is strange because since 1973 they have been legal in this country. 

    A woman’s right to choose is exactly that, and should not have all the additional requirements of expensive testing (invasive ultrasounds and sonograms, etc) before she can legally exercise that right.  This whole debate wastes time and money that could be spent solving actual issues in our ecomony.  Stop telling women what to do and lets figure out how to create jobs and put veterans back to work.  Let’s solve the housing crisis or the war in Afganistan.  Let’s move on to something that does not involve the government making moral decisions for it’s citizens.

  • Steven Miller says:

    March 13, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Travis, war is immoral; so is spending billions of dollars on weapons to kill our “enemies”, real or perceived.  Have your tried witholding the portion of your taxes that go to support wars and weapons?  I’m sure you haven’t.  Therefore, it is hypocritical for you to say that you shouldn’t have to pay for an abortion that you are morally opposed to.

  • Travis Henderson says:

    March 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    @Amy, I’m talking in a normal sense rather than a positive one.  That should have been clear.

    @Stevie.  You’re right: War, to many people, is immoral.  I would like to have my tax money back from the Iraq war and for the Afghanistan war.  But both wars, regrettably, were deemed to be in our national interest (a failure of our leaders, in my opinion).  Despite, I think most would agree national defense is best handled by government. There is a much larger controversy if government should handle abortions.

    Government should have no role in abortions, however, because they are not a public good.  No one would invest in defense spending by themselves because of the free rider problem, but it’s clearly optimal for the government to spend money on it (everyone benefits).  Abortions are not a public good.  They don’t advance the national interest (although studies have proven an economic benefit of abortions because it decreases future low-income people. If you think abortions increase our national interest, like defense spending, the government should subsidize it.  But perhaps then the government should also fund infanticide.  And killing of other problem individuals (low income and criminals).  Those would also advance the national interest, right? Most people wouldn’t want to fund these things b/c they are not immoral.  Therefore, the government shouldn’t fund abortions.