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Originally published Friday, March 18, 2011 at 3:44 PM

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Guest columnist

GOP-controlled House strikes a blow at women's health

Guest columnist Judy Kimelman says the GOP-controlled U.S. House is hurting women's health by trying to eliminate funding for family planning services and to deny Planned Parenthood funding for other services.

Special to The Times

NO more family planning. That's the message coming from the U.S. House of Representatives.

The House Leadership — led by U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. — continues to aggressively push a dangerous agenda to take health care away from women. Their efforts amount to the most devastating legislative assault on women's health care in American history. What's most disturbing about their actions is that there is no downside to funding family planning. Not one. Family planning has long been recognized, by this country and the world, as essential preventive, cost-saving health care that improves the health of women and families.

On Feb. 18, the House voted to eliminate not only a national family-planning program known as Title X, but also to deny Planned Parenthood any federal funds to provide affordable, life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, HIV testing and counseling, and sexually transmitted infections testing and treatment. The majority even voted to dismantle sex education programs for teens. This attack will eliminate health care for millions of women and teens who need it most.

The stated rationale for these draconian initiatives is deficit reduction. But if this is their motive, the facts don't back up their rhetoric. There is no question family planning saves money. In Washington, for every dollar spent on family planning the state saves more than $4 in costs associated with unintended pregnancy.

Even if there were no fiscal savings, House Leadership should not ignore the clear benefits for women's, children's and family health. As a physician, I see this first-hand. When women can plan pregnancies they have earlier access to pre-natal care, healthier births, and higher rates of breast-feeding. Family-planning services give women life-saving cancer screenings, contraception, HIV testing and counseling, and annual exams. Sex education programs ensure that teens have the tools to avoid unintended pregnancy and lead healthy lives. Title X was the creation of a bipartisan effort supported by President Richard Nixon, back when women's health care was considered simply health care and not the political football that is has become.

House Republicans have voted to deny care to people at a time when families are already suffering from the economic downturn. Title X has been serving low-income, uninsured women for more than 40 years. It serves women who often have no other access to health care.

By also targeting Planned Parenthood, Congress is attacking the largest and most trusted provider of these services to this population. But it isn't just Planned Parenthood. There are other health care providers who also serve patients under Title X that will lose funding. Sixty percent of the women who go to Planned Parenthood and similar health centers report that these are their only source of health care. These initiatives will increase health disparities and hurt poor women most.

Planned Parenthood serves more than 140,000 women in Washington, provides education to 35,000, and is a vital part of our family planning safety-net. The organization provides vital infrastructure, professionalism, high quality affordable health care. In 2010 alone, 72 percent of women in Washington who used Title X funds received their care at a Planned Parenthood health center.

Family planning is one of the most clearcut examples of cost-effective, preventive health care and the majority of Americans believe women should have access to it. Our state Legislature needs to fund these programs to avoid digging deeper into debt. The U.S. Senate should be urged to reject the dangerous proposals from House leaders.

Viewed from any angle, denying women access to family planning and attacking the organizations providing it is bad policy that will harm women, children and families and increase our health-care costs.

Judy M. Kimelman, M.D., is chair of the Washington section for the American Congress of Gynecologists and Obstetricians.

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