Editorial: Women’s access to family planning key to social, economic and health gains

Government can be a force for good, a woman has a right to choose and there are too many guns in the world. These three statements are creeds passed down from Morley Cowles Ballantine, Durango Herald publisher, editor and chairman of the board who passed away in 2009, which remain among our core beliefs today.

Morley spent her lifetime working to make women’s lives better. In 2004, Planned Parenthood Federation of America recognized her dedication with the Margaret Sanger Award, its most prestigious honor. Of all her causes, women’s reproductive rights and the fundamental freedom to make decisions about one’s own body is what she believed in most.

We would be remiss to let the 100th anniversary of Planned Parenthood (1916-2016) pass without notice, particularly now. The 115th and GOP-controlled Congress sworn in Tuesday has vowed to strip the organization of its $528 million in federal funding, despite its 100-year history of providing preventive health care, family planning services and sexual education to millions of women, men and young people nationwide.

This is not a new effort, but it would be a mistake. Federal taxpayer dollars exclusively support birth control, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted disease testing. With state and federal funding and private grants, Planned Parenthood has spent 100 years creating and expanding opportunities for women, many low-income, for which access to health care posed a significant challenge until implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Family planning services are part of the ACA’s preventive care strategy. It requires private insurance companies to cover some birth control and a wide range of preventive care without co-pays or deductibles, including wellness exams (pap tests, sexually transmitted diseases and cancer screenings), diabetes screenings and prenatal care.

The irony, of course, is that attempts to de-fund and limit access to family planning services results in thousands of unplanned pregnancies among low-income women who lose access to affordable and effective birth control, increases abortion rates and strains social services.

In 2011 in Texas, funding for family planning was cut by 66 percent, which led to the closure of 82 family planning clinics, one-third of which were affiliated with Planned Parenthood, and resulted in half of all pregnancies being unplanned and an increase in state and federal taxpayer’s Medicaid costs by $273 million.

In contrast, Colorado is a national leader, and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains a state leader, in the effort to reduce teen pregnancy through increased use of long-acting reversible contraception. The birth rate for Medicaid-eligible women ages 15 to 24 dropped sharply from 2010 to 2012 resulting in an estimated $49 to $111 million avoided expenses in Medicaid birth-related costs.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, unintended pregnancies among Colorado women result in approximately 10,000 abortions each year. When contraception, particularly long-acting methods, became more available in Colorado between 2009 and 2013, the abortion rate fell 42 percent among all women ages 15 to 19. Morley would have been proud.

It is rural women who will be hurt most by any cuts to federal funding, repeal of the ACA, changes to Medicaid and limits placed on covered services. The ACA cannot be cherry-picked. It is time to work on real reform and federal funding for Planned Parenthood should remain.