Are women’s interests going to be sacrificed again?

Why is the most controversial part of the stimulus bill about family planning? Whenever money and women’s wombs are connected, it seems to make people a little, uh, hysterical.

Chris Matthews became one of the latest people spreading misinformation and ridiculous uninformed personal comments on this subject when he said, “I don’t know.  . it sounds a little like China, doesn’t it?”

A complete and reasonable discussion about women’s reproductive health and freedom has been rendered almost impossible because of the fundamentalist right’s narrow focus on abortion. But that’s no reason for someone like Chris Matthews to be so uninformed when he raises the issue with the guests on his own show. There is plenty of information available on how providing education and access to family planning not only increases well-being for women, but for the economy of their country.

House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio brought the issue to the forefront when he made the rounds of the political shows complaining there was “$200 million for contraception. What does that have to do with the economy?”

And some of the “religious right” topped it off by making up a lie out of whole cloth by saying the money was for contraception and abortion.

Now news reports today indicate that the Democrats may be willing to jettison this part of the stimulus package.

So why is it that women’s issues are always the first to be sacrificed by Democrats?  

The other compelling question tonight is why so much is being said and written that reinforces the question – what does family planning have to do with the economy – but practically nothing is being said in response.

First of all, the family planning money was to extend help to states with the rising cost of services, including family planning. Each dollar invested in Title X family planning saves $3.80 in Medicaid costs for pregnancy-related health care, including care of newborns.

From a Guttmacher report:

Researchers estimate that one in five women of reproductive age were uninsured in 2003–a 10 percent increase in uninsured women since 2001–and roughly 400,000 more women joined the ranks of those needing publicly subsidized care in just two years. However, 27 states and the District of Columbia have seen family planning funding decline or stagnate since 1994–a trend that could be exacerbated by new Medicaid cost-cutting proposals and greater hostility to reproductive health issues in Congress and state legislatures.

Today, half of all women who are sexually active and fertile but do not want to get pregnant need publicly funded services to help them access birth control,” said Rachel Benson Gold, director of policy analysis at The Alan Guttmacher Institute. “Yet in Congress and the states, we are facing a potential ‘perfect storm’ that could make it harder for these women to get contraceptives, counseling, and STD testing that help them plan their pregnancies and protect their health.”

In 2002, 16.8 million women are estimated to have needed publicly supported contraceptive care, yet clinics were able to serve just 4 in 10, or 6.7 million women. As funding for programs dedicated to family planning–such as Title X of the Public Health Service Act–has decreased or leveled off, the burden of meeting women’s health care needs has shifted to Medicaid. Medicaid funding for contraceptive services has tripled since 1980, and the program now accounts for almost two-thirds of all federal and state family planning funding nationwide.

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