Preserving patient protection

Susanna Osborn/Staff

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If you live in Alameda County or go to college here, there are thousands of reasons you should be deeply alarmed by the House of Representatives' attempt to strip all federal funding from Planned Parenthood - 19,130 reasons, to be exact.

That's the number of people - including students - who visited Planned Parenthood health centers last year in Alameda County alone and received primary health care, including breast cancer screenings, cholesterol checks and help with family planning.

In many cases, these students and working-poor women and their families wouldn't have been able to receive such essential medical care anywhere else. In some areas, the demand for basic primary care increased by almost 30 percent from 2008 to 2009. That number will increase as the recession grinds on.

The overwhelming majority of services for Planned Parenthood patients are basic health check-ups and contraception. The hundreds of teens who attended Planned Parenthood's education programs learned how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and avoid unintended pregnancies. That's significant in Alameda County, where the Public Health Institute estimated that teen births in 2008 cost taxpayers $25 million, and the medical cost of sexually transmitted diseases among 15 to 24-year-olds cost the county $58 million.

Teen pregnancy rates in California have been declining, and Planned Parenthood has played a role in this progress. But its ability to provide this important help to young people and families will be cut short if Planned Parenthood is cut off from all federal funding and clinics have to close their doors.

The radical right wing leaders in the House claim that their effort to defund Planned Parenthood (in an amendment they attached to a

federal budget bill) will stop any taxpayer money from being spent on abortion.

But for the last 35 years, federal dollars have been prohibited from being used for elective abortion - which represents only a tiny percentage of the medical services Planned Parenthood provides.

The truth is that the only services that would be cut if the organization loses government funding are family planning, which prevents abortions, and primary health care that protects the lives of women and children who may have nowhere else to turn for medical help.

When I was mayor of Berkeley, we established a health clinic at Berkeley High School that, to this day, provides reproductive health services for young women. I know how important it is to the health of our teens and young adults to have accurate information about avoiding sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies. Planned Parenthood has been a leader in doing this important work for more than four decades.

Defunding Planned Parenthood will not save money and ease the national deficit.

The truth is that Planned Parenthood saves the country millions of dollars in health care costs every year by preventing thousands of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. With the acute shortage of affordable community health care providers made worse by the state's budget crisis - also caused by Republicans who won't let the people vote on maintaining existing taxes - where will tens of thousands of low-income people turn if there were no more Planned Parenthood?

Many of those patients are students who haven't yet entered the work force. UC Berkeley senior Miranda Hann says she knows many fellow students who have gone to Planned Parenthood for contraceptives, and, as a resident assistant in her dormitory, she has referred many students there. "Students can afford the services at Planned Parenthood, and they know it's completely confidential," Hann said. "We have always counted on it."

As a longtime advocate of access to health care for everyone, I urge you to join me in standing with Planned Parenthood. Let the leaders in the House know that de-funding Planned Parenthood is neither frugal nor responsible.

The casualties of this ideological attack will be those who are hurting the most in this economy, and all of us will pay the price. Please support Planned Parenthood and its mission to provide quality health care for every family in every community.

Editor's Note: This op-ed was written by Senator Hancock on behalf of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte.


Loni Hancock is a California State Senator. Reply to [email protected]

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