Like many Americans, I watched to see what the new Congress and the administration would do to energize the economy and create new jobs. Recent weeks have brought scores of “solutions” from Congress: eliminate Title X; de-fund Planned Parenthood; cut funding for Head Start and heating assistance for low-income people, the list continues. If enacted, these cuts will mean tens of thousands of job losses nationally.
Beyond the particularly ill-timed job losses, vital services will be lost. Title X provides contraception and patient education; physical exams; cancer screening; and prevention, counseling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV[i]. It provides the only health care many low-income women and teens receive. It serves nearly five million women in 4500 clinics[ii] annually with low-cost, quality care. Studies have found that every $1 spent on family planning saves $4.02 in pregnancy-related and newborn care costs to Medicaid[iii]. This figure doesn’t include potential longer term health and social services costs.
In the 1990’s I was Director of a Head Start program in Los Angeles. Marcela (not her real name) was a 22-year-old who worked as a community educator in our program. At 15, she had delivered a boy who had a number of special needs. Our Head Start program provided the health, mental health, educational and other services her son needed. By age 7, he was able to manage in a mainstream classroom although he still needed additional support. The baby daddy was around, but barely, so Marcela worked with the program to take care of her son’s needs, and her own.
Marcela was an example of a successful Head Start client. With the program’s support, she had made the transition from client to Head Start staff. She was able to translate her life experience to help others facing complex situations due to poverty and other factors. At 22, she planned to enroll in a community college in the fall so she could become a teacher.
In the summer before school started, Marcela found herself pregnant by her new boyfriend of four months. Devoutly Catholic, she would not consider an abortion. While I respected her decision, my heart sank. I saw her dream of an education and a better life deferred indefinitely. I had recently brought a Title X clinic to our main Head Start site to make services more accessible for clients and the community, but I had failed to reach Marcela with contraceptive education and services in time.
Marcela is not an isolated case. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 17.4 million women nationally were in need of publicly-funded contraceptive services/supplies in 2008 because they either had incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level or they were younger than 20.
Title X funds have never provided abortion services. They provide services that prevent unintended pregnancies that—guess what?--may result in abortions.
Driving around the Maryland suburbs I see crisis pregnancy centers ready to scare women out of having abortions. Some churches help young, pregnant women with baby clothes, diapers and bottles. I have never—although granted there may be a handful somewhere—heard of a church or nongovernment-funded program that supports needy families for years after birth.
There’s a fixation on the fetus starting at conception. It ends, as Jon Stewart said recently, as the baby’s head crowns at birth. It casts such a wide shadow that it denies the science of how to avoid or delay pregnancy in the first place. It fails to confront the complexities of raising children in particularly difficult circumstances.
While some in Congress wage their war on women, America is still waiting for the jobs and economic recovery that will enable greater self-sufficiency and less reliance on government assistance. Let’s get to the real task at hand.
Americans—and not just on the right—don’t want a nanny state (no pun intended). In an ideal world every child would be born to a loving family where the parents have jobs that pay adequately so they are able to provide for their families. We can’t get there without Title X, Head Start or jobs. You just can’t have it both ways.
[i] US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Population Affairs website
[ii] Guttmacher Institute, 2008 data
[iii] National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association website