For 45 years, the federal government has subsidized contraception for poor and uninsured women, quietly preventing millions of abortions and unintended pregnancies.
Once, Republicans saw that as a good thing. No longer.
In a petty and fiscally stupid gambit aimed at undermining one of the more effective family planning ideas in a generation, the GOP-controlled Congress has gone gunning for Title X – a $286 million grant program that has saved taxpayers billions of dollars.
House Republicans want to kill it entirely; Senate Republicans will settle for maiming. Either way, it’s a very big deal for California, where Title X money underwrites cheap or free birth control, family planning advice, sexually transmitted disease screenings and other health services (not abortions) for more than a million patients annually.
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More than a quarter of those served nationally by Title X live in California. All are low income. Many are uninsured.
Some are undocumented, but some are just Californians who have fallen through the cracks for one reason or another – street people, migrant workers, people between health plans, teenagers who are sexually active and afraid their parents will find out if they seek birth control from their family doctor.
Whatever the reason, Title X funding has become a vital part of the health care safety net in this state, even after the Affordable Care Act. The California Family Health Council, which administers the program here, says it averts about 275,000 unintended pregnancies a year.
Researchers at the Guttmacher Institute have found that every dollar that goes into the program saves taxpayers more than $7 in other costs such as Medi-Cal and welfare. And it’s hard to imagine contraception being remotely controversial to anyone in 2015.
A 2012 Gallup Poll on the issue found that birth control was approved of by 90 percent of Democrats, 89 percent of independents and 87 percent of Republicans.
Why any member of the California delegation would back this pound-foolish move is beyond comprehension. When Title X was passed in 1970, it had broad bipartisan support, and Republican President Richard Nixon signed it into law.
Unfortunately, conservatives looking to pick a fight with President Barack Obama through the appropriations process have fixated on Title X as a target because one of its larger grant recipients is Planned Parenthood, which also performs abortions.
It’s a straw man. For one thing, the vast majority of women who visit Planned Parenthood clinics go for birth control, not pregnancy termination. But even if that weren’t the case, Title X money can’t be used for abortions.
And in California, Planned Parenthood clinics represent only a fraction of the agencies that provide family planning services with Title X money. Most grant recipients here are community clinics, county health services departments, teen clinics at urban high schools, rural health care operations.
Those clinics run by the Placer County Health and Human Services Department, the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, the Family HealthCare Network in Tulare County? Ditto.
If the program is eliminated or slashed, as Congress intends, the ax will fall not on Obama, as conservatives feverishly imagine, but on people most in need of access to reproductive health care and contraception. And on the rural constituents of GOP congressmen including U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Why any member of the California delegation would back this pound-foolish move is beyond comprehension. When Title X was passed in 1970, it had broad bipartisan support and was signed by Republican President Richard Nixon.
But that was back when the Grand Old Party stood for something besides sticking it to Democrats and the poor.