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The Budget Stalemate and the Major Media Fail on Riders

As the uncertainty of the very real-life drama about the budget stalemate and threatened shutdown of the federal government drags on, there is one thing you can count on.

Every single major media outlet has gotten the story about riders wrong.

Here is a fact: The GOP and Tea Party want to defund Planned Parenthood. It's one of the primary targets and sticking points remaining in the ongoing budget talks.

Another fact: Despite GOP talking points, this is not about abortion. The GOP/Tea Party proposal would bar Planned Parenthood from being reimbursed by any federal health program like Medicaid for providing primary and preventive health services including birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and STI testing and treatment, including HIV testing.

This is not a hard concept and, again, it is verifiable fact.

But you might not know this because virtually every single major media outlet continues like synchronized broken records that this is about abortion and funding for abortion.

Today, for example, the widely admired Ezra Klein wrote the following about the "three elements" of the budget debate:

Here are the three elements:

1) the quantity of cuts, which most observers expect to fall between $33 billion and $40 billion when added to the $10 billion in cuts that have already passed;

2) the location of the cuts, which Republicans hope to concentrate in the 12 percent of the budget known as non-discretionary defense spending, and which Democrats want to spread more widely across the federal budget;

3) the policy riders House Republicans attached to H.R.1, and in particular, the riders relating to abortion and the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate carbon.

He then went on to say:

From talking to people involved in the negotiations, I’d say it’s a safe bet that the final deal will include about $35 billion in total cuts, a lot of which will come from non-defense discretionary spending but a fair amount of which won’t, and some sort of policy rider wherein Planned Parenthood can’t use the federal money it gets for abortions, but it can still receive federal money. This would be similar to the deal we saw on abortion funding in the health-care law.

If such a policy rider is written, it is a testament to the level of absurdity at which our political system has arrived.  Because Planned Parenthood does not get federal funding for abortion care, and therefore does not curently use federal funding for abortion care. None. It can't use federal funding for abortions now, so writing a policy to that effect would be mere theater.  Comparing this to the "deal" we say in the health care law also misrepresents what happened under health reform but that is another article altogether.

The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding of abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother, conditions to which of course a large number of Tea Party, GOP and far right anti-choicers also object, but that also is a different article.

Similarly, three male authors of a Post Politics article inthe Washington Post also conflated federal funding for Planned Parenthood's primary preventive care with federal funding for abortion, which again, it does not recieve, and mixed this issue in with the rider now contained in the "stopgap bill" passed by Republicans that includes a prohibition on the use by the District of Columbia of its own funds to provide abortions for poor women.

The New York Times and NPR did no better.  Today, the NYT's Michael Shear wrote that the budget stalemate continued over "ideological disputes over abortion financing..." and several NPR reporters used virtually the same phrasing throughout the day.

Some reporters did their homework and wrote accurate pieces.  Among them were Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly and Kevin Drum of Mother Jones.

Why is getting this right so important?  By parroting the talking points of the extreme right wing, major media outlets are reinforcing a series of lies about care provided to poor and low-income women in this country and in doing so, escalating the war on women's health.  Not only is this morally and ethically wrong, it is also costly, economically and in terms of the lives and health of real people who struggle every day for economic security and good health.  You only need to read Andrea Grimes recent story about seeking alternatives to Planned Parenthood in Texas to know what the landscape would look like should Planned Parenthood be funded.

So for my colleagues in the media and for all of us, here are the facts about this extreme proposal:  

The Pence amendment, from which the rider originated, would cut off preventive health care for millions of women who need it the most by preventing Planned Parenthood health centers from providing birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, annual exams, and other preventive care to millions of women whose health care is covered by Medicaid and other public health coverage programs. Planned Parenthood serves three million people served in their health centers each year, and two million of those participate in some federal health program.

More than 90 percent of the health care provided by Planned Parenthood is preventive. Every year, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses carry out nearly one million screenings for cervical cancer and 830,000 breast exams. Planned Parenthood health centers also provide affordable birth control to nearly 2.5 million patients, and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV testing for women and men.  The funding that PPFA receives from the federal government goes toward this basic care, and accounts for roughly one-third of Planned Parenthood’s $1 billion annual budget. These funds come from local, state and federal sources, but 90 percent come from Medicaid and other federal sources. Federal funds pay only for cancer screenings, birth control, family planning visits, annual exams, testing for HIV and other STIs, and other basic care.

Moreover, 73 percent of Planned Parenthood health centers are in rural or medically underserved areas. Planned Parenthood provides primary and preventive health care to many who otherwise would have nowhere to turn. According to the Guttmacher Institute, six in ten patients who receive care at a family planning health center like Planned Parenthood consider it their main source of health care. 

For the sake of these women and their families, the truth deserves to be told by every responsible journalist.


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