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Editorial | Island Voices

Congress should focus on economy, not deny health care to women


At a time when more women and families are having difficulties accessing basic health care due to increased costs and a struggling economy, it is disappointing that much of Congress’ recent efforts undermine women’s access to health care.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., has introduced legislation that would have a devastating impact on women’s preventative health care by denying certain health centers that provide abortion services across the country federal funding through the Title X family planning program.

Additionally, the newest House version of the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution proposes to eliminate Title X family planning funding altogether.

These out-of-touch ideological measures would cut off tens of thousands of Hawaii’s women from their only source of primary health care. Their real effect would be to place women at increased risk of undetected cancers and eliminate all funding to assist women in accessing affordable birth control, saving many lives and preventing thousands of unintended pregnancies.

Last year, Planned Parenthood of Hawaii (PPHI) served more than 8,700 patients at more than 13,000 visits to our health centers on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island. Of those patients, about 6,000 were served with Title X family planning funds. These visits represent basic health care: annual exams and Pap tests, lifesaving cervical and breast cancer screenings, HIV and sexually transmitted infections testing, and birth control. None involved abortion.

For many of these patients, these visits were their only contact with a health care provider.

More than 90 percent of the care offered by Planned Parenthood health centers is preventive. Every year Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses carry out nearly 1 million lifesaving screenings for cervical cancer and 830,000 breast exams. They also provide contraception to nearly 2.5 million patients and nearly 4 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections.

Planned Parenthood health centers provide safe, legal abortion when women and their doctors agree it is needed. For that reason alone, anti-choice extremists have declared that they intend to "take down" Planned Parenthood over the next 10 years. Simply put, their goal is to prevent women from accessing reproductive health care services by eliminating the providers of those services.

Unfortunately the numbers don’t stop at Planned Parenthood. The U.S. House is proposing to eliminate Title X family planning funds altogether, no matter what health center is providing the care.

PPHI serves about 24 percent of all Title X patients in Hawaii; we’re just one of many community health centers that serve low-income, uninsured and underinsured women. Nearly 25,000 women in Hawaii will lose access to health care if the House majority is successful.

Americans want Congress to focus on creating jobs and fixing the economy, not pushing an extreme ideological agenda that would take away health care from women. Make no mistake — these are not economic measures. Services provided at publicly funded family planning centers saved the federal and state governments an estimated $4.3 billion in 2004. Every dollar invested saves $4.02 in Medicaid expenditures that otherwise would have been needed.

It is time to stand up for women’s health and stand with community health centers, including Planned Parenthood. We are always grateful to see the commitment of Hawaii’s congressional delegation to women’s health, as we are so thankful to see them take a stand.

At the same time, we must be sure that other lawmakers in Washington, D.C., know the effects their actions have on our state. Providing basic health care to thousands of women isn’t political, nor is it wasteful. It’s simply necessary.

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