By Kelsey Ruane, National Women’s Law Center
If you have been reading the news lately, you might be wondering about the new rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services related to the Title X family planning program. By issuing this final rule, the Obama Administration took an important step in helping to protect access to birth control and other preventive services for the over 4 million individuals who access care from health care providers in the Title X program, our nation’s family planning program. The new rule clarifies that states cannot restrict funds from going to a provider, like a Planned Parenthood clinic, for “any reason other than its ability to provide Title X services.” In other words, it is illegal for states to prevent people from getting health care they need just because some lawmakers do not like the fact that Planned Parenthood provides safe, legal abortion.
Why is access to Title X providers so important?
- Roughly 4 million people per year receive care – from cancer screenings to birth control to STI testing and treatment – through the Title X program
- In 2013 Title X –funded health centers provided 988,000 Pap tests, 1.6 million breast exams, almost 6 million STD tests, and 1.2 million STD tests.
- These services helped women prevent 1.1 million unintended pregnancies
- These services particularly help people of color: For example, the cancer screenings provided by Title X providers help guard against disparities in cancer deaths. Black women are twice as likely to lose their lives to cervical cancer as non-Latino white women. And Latinas are more likely to die from breast cancer than non-Latina white women, even when diagnosed at similar ages and stages and with similar tumor characteristics.
We already know that when states defund family planning clinics, low-income and uninsured individuals suffer the consequences. Take Kansas for example: After Kansas defunded Planned Parenthood, the number of people accessing birth control, cancer screenings, STI tests, well-woman exams, and other care through the Title X program fell by more than 14,000. Also, in just one East Texas county where the local health center lost 60 percent of its family planning funding, the number of abortions increased by 191 percent in two years.
If you have ever used family planning services, such as birth control or STI screenings, then you know from experience just how vital access to this care is. Perhaps there was a time in your life when you were uninsured, but you were able to get these services anyway. You may not have known, but Title X funding made it possible to get those vital health care services without insurance.
In short, this isn’t about politics. It’s about ensuring that people have access to vital healthcare services. It’s time to stop the attacks on family planning providers. We must remain vigilant to protect access to Title X family planning services. Let’s celebrate today’s news, but remember that protecting access to family planning and healthcare is an ongoing fight that requires all of our involvement. And the fight is even more urgent today, with a new Administration intent on taking away access to health care. We at the National Women’s Law Center will be here every step of the way.