Stripping Planned Parenthood's funds would mean more abortions, not fewer

February 24, 2011|By Peter Beilenson

Early Saturday morning, the House Republicans succeeded in passing a budget amendment stripping federal funds from Planned Parenthood. While not as disastrous as the complete defunding of Title X (all federally funded family planning services) — which is desired by many of the tea partiers in Congress — these cuts, if allowed to go forward, would seriously diminish the ability of millions of American women to plan how they and their families lead their lives.

As a physician who has worked in family planning clinics in one of the poorest cities and one of the wealthiest suburban counties in the country, I have treated young and middle-aged women of all income levels and all backgrounds. The single driving force behind all these women's visits to a family planning clinic is to control their own life's course. At Planned Parenthood's Towson office, I saw patients like the Johns Hopkins University graduate whose insurance didn't cover contraceptives. At the downtown office, more than one mom brought her teenage daughter to get contraception so the girl could avoid repeating history and be able to finish school. In Howard County's publicly funded clinic, I've seen private school kids who were afraid to go to their pediatrician, yet responsible enough to seek care and protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.

The Republican House majority was ecstatic about its success at damaging the ability of Planned Parenthood to provide its services. A leader of the effort, Rep. Michael Pence, Republican of Indiana, proclaimed the passage of the amendment as a victory for opponents of abortion: "This afternoon's vote was a victory for taxpayers and a victory for life."

But only a small percentage of women going to Planned Parenthood are seeking an abortion. (And, as Congressman Pence clearly knows, Planned Parenthood has always been prohibited from using federal funding for abortion services.) The vast majority of services provided by Planned Parenthood offices across the country are for family planning, sexually transmitted disease treatment, and pelvic and breast exams for women (as well as vasectomies for men). This applies to people of both low income and high, and ranging in age from teens to mid-40s.

No matter where you stand on the abortion issue, it is simply incomprehensible to me that anyone can oppose the provision of contraceptives. More than 66 percent of 18-year-olds and 95 percent of 25-to-45-year-olds are sexually active — and yet, somehow, the average couple has only about two children. It is no secret that contraceptive use is nearly universal at some point in virtually all American couples' lives. In many places in the United States, Planned Parenthood clinics are the only — or one of the few — sites for access to family planning services for women of all stripes.

With close to half of all pregnancies in the United States unplanned, we need greater access to family planning services for both men and women, not less. By defunding these clinics, it is a certainty that more unplanned pregnancies will result, assuredly increasing the number of abortions sought in the United States. Some "victory" that would be.

It is a sad reality that the right for women to control their own bodies, won through the efforts of women and men in the 20th century, is under attack again from the reactionary forces of the political right. Reasonable adults on both sides of the aisle should contact their senators, who will be considering the budget in the next couple of weeks, and urge them to vote against this senseless move to make it harder for women in America to manage their lives by availing themselves (and their partners) of family planning information and safe contraceptives.

Dr. Peter Beilenson is the health officer for Howard County. His e-mail is pbeilenson@howardcountymd.gov.

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