One might think that a Senator previously caught in a prostitution ring scandal, whose political party simultaneously makes itself out to be the guardians of the national chastity belt, would be a little circumspect about taking actions to limit women’s access to basic contraceptive methods and to services that would prevent and treat things like say….sexually transmitted infections.
One might also think that said Senator, whose political party is constantly ranting about the glories of motherhood and against women’s right to choose abortion, would be supportive of expanded access for low-income women both to the prenatal and maternal health care services necessary to achieving a healthy pregnancy and birth, and to the contraceptive methods needed to prevent unintended pregnancy in the first place, thereby reducing the number of abortions in the long run.
In the case of Senator David Vitter, one would be wrong.
Senator Vitter apparently has no shame. While he apparently can afford the price of high-end call girl
services–and of course then achieve absolution by apologizing for his indiscretions to wife, state, and country–he appears disinterested in making sure low-income women can
afford the services they need.
So yesterday, he introduced an amendment to the omnibus spending bill that would prohibit Title X funding from going to Planned Parenthood.
Let me be clear: I could not have less interest in Senator Vitter’s choices about his sexual life, whatever they may be. I consider these highly personal choices. But when you are a US Senator, when your public stances are so clearly in contrast to your private actions, when you wield power over other people’s lives, and when you pledge to serve the people of this country, you can’t have it both ways. Yet Vitter–and others, of course–just keep trying.
And Title X is one of their biggest targets. Having failed to gut Title X through the "midnight regulations" promulgated by the Bush Administration and now being reversed by the Obama Administration, the Republicans need other means through which to promote their real agenda: denying women access to basic services.
The Title X Family Planning program, enacted in 1970, is the
only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals
with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health
services. That means providing birth control and other contraceptive services, STI testing and treatment, life-saving cancer testing such as pap tests and breast cancer screenings, and basic health care information to all who need them.
By law, priority is given to persons from low-income
families, a group that, in case Vitter has not noticed, is growing rapidly. You know…the more than 46 million Americans who currently have no health care, and the increasingly large share of people these days who have no job.
Those people. The ones who despite increasingly difficult circumstances still have families, still have children, still have decisions to make about family survival, and still need access to basic sexual and reproductive health services, among many other forms of primary preventive care. The ones who may decide they can not afford another child right now, or who may need help accessing pre-natal care during a wanted pregnancy.
The Title X family planning program is intended to assist individuals
in determining the number and spacing of their children. This promotes
positive birth outcomes and healthy families. The education,
counseling, and medical services available in Title X-funded clinic
settings assist couples in achieving these goals.
In fiscal year 2006, according to HHS:
[Eighty eight] Title X grantees provided family planning services to
approximately five million women and men through a network of more than
4,400 community-based clinics that include State and local health
departments, tribal organizations, hospitals, university health
centers, independent clinics, community health centers, faith-based
organizations, and other public and private nonprofit agencies. In
approximately 75% of U.S. counties, there is at least one clinic that
receives Title X funds and provides services as required under the
Title X statute.
And, the program works. Full stop.
According to HHS:
Over the past 30 years, Title X family planning clinics have played a
critical role in ensuring access to a broad range of family planning
and related preventive health services for millions of low-income or
uninsured individuals and others. In addition to contraceptive services
and related counseling, Title X-supported clinics provide a number of
related preventive health services such as: patient education and
counseling; breast and pelvic examinations; breast and cervical cancer
screening according to nationally recognized standards of care;
sexually transmitted disease (STD) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus
(HIV) prevention education, counseling, testing and referral; and
pregnancy diagnosis and counseling. By law, Title X funds may not be
used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.
Let me repeat: the program assists people in achieving their own family goals and on improving public health outcomes, thereby saving families and the United States writ large tens of billions of dollars in health care costs avoided through prevention.
Moreover, it has been instrumental in achieving an ostensible goal of the Republican Party: reducing the number of abortions. According to a report released in February by the Guttmacher Institute, publicly funded family planning servcies prevent 1.94 million unintended pregnancies each year, pregnancies that would otherwise result in 860,000 unintended births, 810,000 abortions and 270,000 miscarriages. So, absent publicly funded family planning services, the U.S. abortion rate would be nearly two-thirds higher than it currently is, and nearly twice as high among poor women.
Sounds like pretty sound public policy, and a program with a good return on its investment, right?
But to politicians like David Vitter and other members of the far right, bereft of any other idea or credible agenda, hypocrisy has no term limit.
So they attack Planned Parenthood, their favorite strawman, so to speak. Why? Planned Parenthood is one of the largest providers of Title X services. By definition it is therefore one of the largest sources of care for low-income women. But Planned Parenthood also provides abortion services. By focusing on that aspect of Planned Parenthood’s full roster of essential services, the far right can obscure its real agenda: denying women (and men) access to basic contraceptive methods, to services for sexually transmitted disease prevention, detection and cure and….ironically, to healthy pregnancy services.
Newsflash: Abortion is still legal in the United States. Newsflash 2: The U.S. government by law does not fund abortions through Title X; such services are paid for by the client or through private funding. Newsflash 3: As the largest provider of contraceptive services to those who might otherwise not be able to afford them, Planned Parenthood is a leader in reducing the need for abortion.
But none of this would matter to Senator Vitter, or others who constantly seek ways to deny women essential health care and to undermine their basic human rights. When your political party suffers from a general poverty of viable ideas, and is responsible for economic policies that have led your country to the brink of depression, you need a strategy for diverting attention.
I guess it could be seen as symptomatic of the Republican party’s general tunnel vision that Vitter doesn’t get he might be the wrong guy to be waving this particularly tattered red flag.