Obama better on women's right to choose


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Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards stopped in Iowa City last week to promote President Obama’s re-election campaign and to discuss sexual health and women’s rights amid a campaign season dominated by endless bickering about the economy and the federal budget. With respect to each candidate’s attitude toward Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides sexual health services such as STI testing and contraception, Richards highlighted the stark contrast between the policies of Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney.

Obama, Planned Parenthood’s chosen candidate, pledged to continue government funding of Planned Parenthood as long as he remains in office. Romney’s plan, in contrast, stumps to end funding to “abortion advocates” such as Planned Parenthood. This policy fits into Romney’s broader pledge to overturn the Supreme Court’s famous 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, which struck down laws restricting abortion rights.

“We literally could lose 40 years of Constitutional rights in America if Mitt Romney becomes president,” Richards said on Oct. 4. Romney’s proposed discontinuation of funding for Planned Parenthood would have a disastrous effect on access to sexual-health services and would worsen what Romney calls a problem that “cannot be squared with the good heart of America”: the prevalence of abortion in America.

An assessment of Romney’s policy on Planned Parenthood must begin with the candidate’s characterization of the organization as an “abortion advocate.” The organization does, in fact, provide abortions; Romney’s implication, however, is that in funding Planned Parenthood, the government is somehow subsidizing abortion procedures. According to a Planned Parenthood fact sheet, the organization provided more than 11 million patient-care services in 2010. STI/STD testing and treatment, contraception provision and cancer screening accounted for approximately 86 percent of total services rendered. In the same year, only 3 percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood were abortion procedures.

In fiscal 2010, Planned Parenthood received about $487 million in government money — about half of the organization’s total revenue — but it is not the case that 3 percent of that money was spent on abortions. Under the Hyde Amendment, a 1976 law limiting federal funding for abortions, Planned Parenthood cannot use federal money to pay for abortions. A caveat in the law allows federal and state money allocated through Medicaid to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest, and potential harm to the mother, three scenarios that Romney himself believes justify abortion.

The Romney plan to defund Planned Parenthood would therefore amount to a reduction in government spending on important health services such as cancer screenings and contraception. Paradoxically, Romney’s plan to cut off funding to “abortion advocates” who give women more access to contraception could increase the number of annual abortions in the United States.

A study released last week by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that the incidence of abortion is lower among women with free access to contraception. Approximately 9,000 females ages 14 to 45 were given free contraception from 2008 to 2010; the abortion rate was roughly 6 per 1,000, far below 2008’s national average of 19.6 per 1,000. Given the link between contraception and the abortion rate, it is reasonable to assume that eliminating or reducing Planned Parenthood’s ability to provide nearly 3.7 million contraceptive services annually could raise the abortion rate, which has been trending downward since 1980.

Obama’s plan to maintain Planned Parenthood funding and promote access to contraception through the Affordable Care Act in order to achieve the desired ends of fewer abortions and unplanned pregnancies is grounded in reality and preferable to his challenger’s approach. Mitt Romney’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood would have disastrous consequences — some intended, some not — and would be ultimately detrimental to the advancement of progressive sexual-health policies and the reduction of the national abortion rate.

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