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Family Planning Again Becomes Political Football
Date:1/27/2009

President Obama and Republican Actions Run Counter to Public Opinion

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Political considerations threatened today to strip funding for family planning from President Obama's huge economic stimulus package, despite Obama's earlier pledges to support the programs and their high level of public approval.

A recent Lake Research Partners poll of voters, done for the Women Donors Network in early November 2008 around Election Day and after the current economic meltdown began, found that 72 percent of voters believed the federal government should provide funding for birth control for low-income women. Fully 86 percent thought couples should be able to have access to all birth control options, including emergency contraception, and that it is their decision whether to use birth control and it should be safe and available. Eighty percent believed that for women to achieve equality, they must have access to family planning services, including birth control and contraception. These strong findings were consistent throughout the Bush administration as well.

Additionally, the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health research and policy analysis, points out that Medicaid spending has long proven good for the economy. In its own study in 2007, the Congressional Budget Office found publicly funded family planning would save the federal government $200 million over five years by helping women avoid pregnancies that otherwise would lead to Medicaid-funded births.

Publicly funded clinics provided contraceptive services last year that helped women avoid 1.4 million unintended pregnancies that would have resulted in 640,000 unintended births and 600,000 abortions. Without these services, abortions would have risen by 49 percent, the Guttmacher Institute says in a statement.

Yet yesterday, Obama was reported to have asked Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who chairs the House committee with jurisdiction over Medicaid, to drop a provision that would enable states to provide family planning to low-income families without having to seek permission from the federal government. Other outlets said he was "distancing himself" from the provision as "not part of" his $825 billion stimulus plan.

Mary Jane Gallagher, president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, released a statement noting "Americans are counting on the Obama Administration and every member of Congress to make family planning a priority. Ensuring access to health care is a critical part of the stimulus bill and an important provision that we cannot afford to discard."

President Obama's political move followed a weekend of a high-decibel focus by Republicans on the family planning funding as central to their opposition to the stimulus package. House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said that family planning spending "doesn't stimulate the economy." Conservative columnists and bloggers picked up on the theme, some raising long-discredited arguments that higher birth rates can rescue an aging society.

"If the anti-contraception forces are able to use distortion and harness a frothing media to convince Obama to jettison such a pragmatic and common-sense solution, the next few years may be rockier than we thought," commented BirthControlWatch.org blogger Cristina Page. Other bloggers have added their voices to the turn of events on family planning funds, which have been posted on www.rhrealitycheck.org.

President Obama's apparent reversal on the stimulus package provisions today has dismayed many reproductive health activists who welcomed his action last week to rescind the Bush administration restrictions on family planning funding assistance to overseas groups and signaled his intention to re-fund UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, which the Bush administration had cut off.

Women's rights groups have been strong supporters of the stimulus package.

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