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Originally published Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 5:00 PM

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Editorial: Find the money to keep Public Health — Seattle & King County’s Auburn site open

Women's health has become a recurring theme in local campaigns, yet a lack of funding for public health clinics means new mothers are at grave risk of losing birth control and maternal services in King County.


Seattle Times Editorial

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THROUGHOUT this election season in blue Washington, politicians have bandied about the term “women’s health” to drum up votes. Some Democrats are trying to win back the state Senate majority by accusing their opponents of not sufficiently supporting reproductive rights, including abortion and birth-control access. Meanwhile, a Republican candidate’s flier shows him wearing a pink tie and surrounded by female supporters with the caption, “Improving Women’s Health.”

All talk. Not enough action.

Lawmakers in campaign mode should instead zone in on a crisis in Auburn, where Public Health — Seattle & King County is struggling to keep open that area’s only clinic dedicated to family planning. This office also provides thousands of low-income moms access to maternal support services and a supplemental nutritional program for women and infants.

Unless the county finds about $1.7 million, Public Health will have to shutter the clinic and two satellite offices in January. Nearly 2,000 women are at risk of losing access to birth control. If they can’t find help elsewhere, Public Health estimates the site’s closure could lead to as many as 576 unintended pregnancies in the first year.

This would be a setback for King County, where the teen pregnancy rate has only recently started to fall. Auburn School District’s teen pregnancy rate is the third highest in the county.

The cities of Seattle and Federal Way have stepped up with funds to maintain other public-health clinics for two years. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest plans to take over family planning services at one of those sites, the White Center Public Health Center at Greenbridge, but it does not have the capacity to extend its reach to additional women and teens living in South King County.

Politicians should be all over this authentic, imminent threat to women’s reproductive health. Find $1.7 million. Community leaders in Auburn, Enumclaw and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe must help. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that for every dollar spent on publicly funded birth control nationally, taxpayers save at least $5.68 in Medicaid costs. Local, state and federal public-health funding in this area has not kept up with the rise in demand.

If leaders who claim to support women’s health truly want to make a difference beyond just making political hay, they should remember: About 10,700 struggling clients each year come to the Auburn clinic where they know they can learn how to become stronger mothers and to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

King County’s threatened Auburn Public Health Center is a problem in search of a solution — right now.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).



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