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Op-ed: Oppose bills that deny health care to women, The Journal News, February 14, 2011

Published: 02.14.11| Updated: 02.14.11

At a time when more and more women and families are facing difficulties in accessing health care due to increasing costs and a struggling economy, it is disappointing that one of the first bills introduced in Congress would undermine women’s access to health care.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) has introduced legislation that would have a devastating impact on rural and women’s health by denying health centers across the country federal funding (through the Title X family planning program) for preventive care, including family planning, annual exams, lifesaving cancer screenings, contraception visits, and testing and treatments for sexually transmitted infections. Rep. Pence also plans to introduce an amendment to ban all Planned Parenthood funding.

This is an out of touch ideological bill that would cut off millions of American women from their only source of primary care. Its real effect would be to place women at increased risk of undetected cancer and unintended pregnancy.

For many women, especially those in rural areas and other communities with few health care providers, Planned Parenthood is the only source of health care. For more than 90 years, Planned Parenthood’s doctors, nurses, and other health professionals have been caring for millions of women. One in five American women has received care from a Planned Parenthood health center at some point in her life, underscoring the fact that Planned Parenthood is an essential health care provider in this country.

More than 90 percent of the care Planned Parenthood health centers offer is preventive. Every year Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses provide nearly one million lifesaving screenings for cervical cancer and 830,000 breast exams. About 2.5 million patients receive contraception, and nearly four million get testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Planned Parenthood also provides safe, legal abortion care. It is for that reason alone, anti-choice extremists have declared that they intend to “take down” Planned Parenthood over the next 10 years. Simply put, their goal is to prevent women from accessing reproductive health care services.

Unfortunately, theirs is a coordinated and highly political effort to undermine Planned Parenthood and access to women’s health care. This effort includes deceptive activities by an anti-choice organization that uses secret videotapes and fake actors. In fact, Rep. Pence has aligned himself with these extreme groups.

A significant majority of Americans oppose the Pence bill. According to recent Hart Research poll, 71 percent of all voters, including 60 percent of voters who voted for a Republican candidate for Congress in 2010, disagree with the Pence bill’s restrictions on federal funding.

Americans want Congress to focus on creating jobs and fixing the economy, not pushing an extreme ideological agenda that would take away health care from women. However, the House leadership is also pushing two other anti-women’s health bills.

One, by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) would take comprehensive private health insurance coverage away from millions of American women. It would also impose new tax penalties on individuals and small businesses that purchase comprehensive private health insurance coverage, and put the lives of women with life-threatening pregnancies in danger.

Another bill, by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), revives the failed Stupak abortion ban from two years ago — cutting off millions of American women from the private health insurance coverage they have today by effectively banning abortion coverage in state-based health insurance exchanges established under the health care law.

These ideological attacks overlook the fact that Planned Parenthood prevents more than 600,000 unintended pregnancies every year in this country by providing family planning and contraception to women in need. It is time for elected leaders to stop putting politics and ideology before women’s health, and to focus on jobs and the economy.

I urge Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-Mount Kisco) to vote “no” on the Pence bill, the Smith bill, and the Pitts bill.

Reina Schiffrin

The writer is the President/CEO, Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic

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