Republicans Want Title X Funding Eliminated & It's The Quickest Way To Starve Millions Of Women Of Birth Control
Public clinics can be a godsend for low-income women. Although the Affordable Care Act has reduced the health care gap between low-income and wealthy women, financial barriers to family-planning services, ranging from contraception to STI testing, still remain the lower you go on the income ladder. For decades, subsidized contraception has tried to fill that gap, but under a new plan from Congress Republicans to eliminate Title X funding, , affordable birth control may become more unattainable than a six-figure job for women struggling to get by in present-day America.
A week after women's groups celebrated the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized contraception and ushered in a new area of urban and rural family-planning clinics, Republicans in the House introduced a proposal that would gut Title X, the 40-year-old program that provides funding for contraception and other reproductive health services for low-income patients. The proposal put forward on Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee would not only entirely eliminate Title X funding, but also cut sex education and teen pregnancy prevention programs.
The move seems fundamentally dissonant when you take into consideration the current state of family-planning affairs: The national teen pregnancy rate is at an all-time low, the national abortion rate is steadily declining, and America's birth rate has remained relatively unchanged over the last seven years. These rates have been influenced by a number of factors, ranging from the terrible economy to improved prevention programs, but researchers at both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Guttmacher Institute have thanked contraception for playing a key role in reducing unplanned pregnancies.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 4.6 million people — 90 percent of whom are women — currently rely on Title X funding for their reproductive health needs, including low-cost or 100 percent subsidized birth control. Through Title X funding, more than 4,000 clinics are able to operate, particularly in under-served areas where quality health resources are scarce. In doing so, these clinics are able to prevent an estimated 1 million unintended pregnancies each year, according to the HHS.
"For many of these women and men, a Title X-funded health center is their only access point to the health system and the only health care they receive all year," Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said Tuesday in a statement. She called the House Appropriations proposal a "non-starter" that's out of line with public opinion.
According to a recent NFPRHA poll, "women are three times more likely to support a member of Congress who wanted an increase in federal funding for family planning than a member of Congress who wanted to cut funding," Coleman said. Nearly half of Republican women polled also supported increases for family-planning funding.
So, why stop — and potentially reverse — all this progress now? Well, this isn't the first time House Republicans wanted to eradicate Title X funding. The GOP has been leading a campaign against family-planning services since 2011, when House Speaker John Boehner and his fellow party members almost shut down the federal government over subsidized birth control and pap smears.
At that time, Planned Parenthood was the organization caught in the Republican crosshairs, and it's no different now. Planned Parenthood is the largest family-planning clinic network in the nation, serving 1.5 million patients through Title X funding. Most of the patients impacted by this funding loss would be low-income and rural women who are not showing up at affiliated Planned Parenthood clinics for abortion procedures, but for contraception, well-woman exams, cancer screenings and STI tests, according to the organization's president, Cecile Richards.
“By cutting critical programs, such as the Title X Family Planning program, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program, and international family planning and reproductive health programs ... Congress is holding women, and our country, back," Richards said in a letter sent to Congress on Tuesday. She added, in a separate statement sent to Bustle, that it's "outrageous" for Republicans to consider cutting teen pregnancy prevention programs "just as we’re making historic progress in reducing teen pregnancy."
Despite enjoying decades of near-ubiquity, contraception has become an unexpected political background in recent years. Of course, much of the backlash has stemmed from the ACA and its HHS mandate requiring insurance plans to offer no-copay birth control. The latest Republican plank has rejected insurance coverage of birth control — supporting instead a plan to provide over-the-counter birth control without insurance coverage — along with pulling support from Title X funding for low-income women. Title X, by the way, was signed by President Nixon — yes, a Republican.
Although birth control may be more accessible than ever with the ACA, a contraception gap still persists, with low-income women continuing to have a significantly higher rate of unplanned pregnancies and births. In a study published in February by the Brookings Institute, researchers found that poor women are three times more likely to become pregnant, and are more than five times as likely as affluent women to have an unintended birth. And while there's no "sex gap" — meaning low-income, middle-class, and wealthy women all have premarital sex — poor women are much more likely to either not use contraception, or use it improperly. All of these signs point to: more access and more education about contraception.
"But women with higher incomes are much more successful at ensuring that sex does not lead to an accidental baby," the researchers wrote. "This almost certainly reflects their brighter economic and labor market prospects: simply put, they have more to lose from an unintended birth."
When it comes to public family-planning funds, it's worth noting that the majority of women who rely on these public clinics for reproductive health services are in their 20s — a time when life may be an unstable as women try to further their education and careers. If access to contraception continues to help women succeed in their careers and personal lives, then what's the problem, exactly?