It is no wonder approval ratings for Congress are so low. Politicians such as Speaker Paul Ryan and his allies have repeatedly pushed an extreme agenda to attack initiatives such as women’s health care that have widespread support.
Over the past five years, the status of reproductive health and rights in the U.S. has been steadily declining as numerous states, including Wisconsin, have cut support for family planning clinics or restricted access to abortion services. Congress aims to make this problem worse.
Speaker Ryan’s first objective is to “repeal and replace” Obamacare with a new system that would dramatically shrink the number of women who have health insurance and repeal the important requirement that insurers provide free contraceptive coverage.
The legislation being championed by Speaker Ryan would strip millions of Americans of health insurance by reducing Medicaid coverage and making other changes in insurance policies purchased on the “state exchanges.”
The House bill also seeks to “defund” Planned Parenthood by preventing its clinics from being reimbursed under Medicaid for providing any health care services, including cancer screenings or contraceptives. Such a step would do little to restrict abortion, but it would deny as many as 2.5 million women (including over 6,000 women in Speaker Ryan’s district alone) access to their preferred health care provider and in some cases any provider.
More than half of all Planned Parenthood health centers are in rural or medically underserved areas. In 103 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only safety net provider where women can go to get publicly supported contraceptive services.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that if Planned Parenthood is “defunded,” 15 percent of rural and low income women will lose access to any kind of family planning service and that this would lead to more unintended pregnancies and “thousands” of additional births in the first year alone.
In Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood sees over 60,000 patients of which approximately 50,000 of them are Medicaid eligible, meaning they could lose the ability to see their preferred provider.
Racine and Walworth counties, in Ryan’s district, have two Planned Parenthood health centers, and there are no other federally qualified health centers that offer family planning services leaving women out in the cold and putting their health at risk.
Speaker Ryan’s second major objective is the elimination of Title X, which provides federal dollars to family planning clinics serving low-income communities. The defunding of Title X would do nothing to reduce abortion, but it would do major harm to millions of women who need access to family planning services.
Ryan has already begun his attack on Title X by repealing an Obama administration rule which protected qualified family planning providers from being discriminated against by states just because they also provide abortion services.
Five years ago, when the Population Institute first began publishing its annual 50-State Report Card on Reproductive Health and Rights, nine states received failing grades. In our most recent report card, 20 states received failing marks including Wisconsin, which suffered a dramatic fall from the “B-” Wisconsin received five years ago.
None of this is inevitable, but it is distinctly possible and could turn back the clock on reproductive health and rights by nearly half a century putting women’s health and lives at risk.
This op-ed by Population Institute Director of Public Policy Jennie Wetter originally ran on April 21, 2017 in The Janesville Gazette