Our Government Is Waging a War Against Birth Control, Targeting Teenage Girls

News & Politics

Even while Congress is in recess and President Trump is on vacation, the war on birth control is being waged in earnest. The administration is pressuring Congress to defund the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program, but it is not taking any chances. Recent news reports indicate that the Department of Health and Human Services is already informing existing grantees that they need not apply for any additional funding, as the program will be terminated in July 2018.

Created in 2010 under President Obama, TPP is dedicated to supporting sexuality education programs that actually work to reduce teen pregnancy, as opposed to failed “abstinence only” programs. Supporting evidence-based programs that actually lower teen pregnancy rates is only logical, yet the Trump administration is still opposed to teaching young people about contraception.

In fact, the administration and its allies in Congress are doing everything in their power to limit access to contraception. Congressional attempts to overturn Obamacare may be stalled, but the war against birth control is advancing on multiple fronts. No target is too small, whether it’s a family planning clinic serving a low-income neighborhood or a high school sexuality education curriculum teaching students about condoms and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

Passage of “repeal and replace” would be a major victory for those who oppose birth control, as Obamacare has expanded contraceptive healthcare coverage to millions of low-income women. But undoing Obamacare is not the only way that birth control opponents can restrict access. Last month the House Appropriations Committee passed two appropriation bills that would do what the “repeal and replace” effort so far has failed to do: deny contraceptive coverage.

For nearly half a century, poor women have been obtaining contraceptive services through clinics supported by Title X. In 2015 alone, 3.8 million women were helped. Last month, however, the House Appropriations Committee voted to eliminate all funding for Title X clinics, including, of course, those operated by Planned Parenthood.

House efforts to defund Title X and comprehensive sex education programs were blocked by the Senate when Obama was president. But with the threat of a veto removed, birth control opponents may finally succeed. Budget reconciliation requirements and the fight over the federal debt ceiling will increase the political leverage of House conferees in any House-Senate budget negotiations.

But even if birth control opponents are ultimately stymied by the Senate, the war on contraception will continue. If the Trump administration cannot repeal or replace Obamacare, it can weaken contraceptive coverage through regulatory changes or administrative sabotage.

As the effort to repeal Obamacare languishes, the Department of Health and Human Services will likely complete action on an "interim final rule" that would roll back Obamacare's contraceptive coverage requirement, by allowing employers to delete contraceptive coverage from their health insurance policies. The draft rule would enable employers to withhold contraceptive coverage for any moral or religious objection. They would not even have to notify HHS.

And even if birth control opponents fail to defund Title X in Congress, they will continue to wage the battle at the state level. Earlier this year Congress blocked implementation of an Obama regulation preventing states from barring the distribution of Title X funds to Planned Parenthood clinics, or other qualified providers. Texas and other states now have license to deny funds to Planned Parenthood clinics. As a result, access to family planning services will suffer, particularly in areas where there are no other clinics.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee also voted last month to slash U.S. support for international family planning assistance by nearly $150 million, a cut that would undermine global efforts to improve access to contraception in some of the world’s poorest countries.

None of this makes any fiscal sense. Every federal and state dollar spend on improving access to contraception more than pays for itself in the form of lower Medicaid expenditures and other government outlays. According to the Guttmacher Institute, every dollar spent on Title X saves $7 in public expenditures.

Nor does it make any public health sense. Restricting support for family planning clinics doesn’t reduce the number of abortions. When access to contraception is restricted, unintended pregnancies go up, and so does the demand for abortion services. Guttmacher reports that in 2015 publicly supported contraceptive services helped women prevent 1.9 million unintended pregnancies and 628,600 abortions.

Washington may be taking a break, but the senseless war on birth control rages on.

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