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New data: How the attack on contraceptive services targets the poor

Women's access to publicly funded contraceptive services is falling, a new study shows
Preventing unwanted pregnancies is a public health issue--so why are conservatives against it?

The political attack on contraceptive services and family planning is often depicted as an attack on all women. So it is, but new data show how it's become a particular burden on low-income women.

The data come from the Guttmacher Institute, one of our leading advocacy organizations for women's reproductive health.

The institute's newly released update on contraceptive needs and services shows that the number of women in need of publicly funded contraceptive services and supplies increased by about 22% to 20 million from 2000 through 2012, the latest year in the study. But the number of those receiving assistance from publicly funded clinics fell by 9%. (See first graph.)

"Publicly funded clinics met an estimated 31% of the need for publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies in 2012," the study says, "down from 41% in 2001."

As Guttmacher says, this is a public health issue. Rates of unintended pregnancies soared among poor and low-income women from 1981 through 2006, but fell among women with incomes at twice the federal poverty level or higher. (See second graph.)

The study doesn't incorporate more recent developments, such as the advent of the Affordable Care Act. But the assault on reproductive rights for low-income women is alive and well in states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Act -- including states with disproportionately high rates of uninsurance among lower-income populations.

As Tara Culp-Ressler of ThinkProgress observes, government support for the reproductive health of low-income women dates back to the Nixon administration and the creation of Title X family planning centers in 1970.

In more recent years, however, congressional conservatives have had their knives out for Title X. The program was openly made a target of the right wing's attack on Planned Parenthood, for example. The religion-based attack on ACA-mandated contraceptive services--the Hobby Lobby effect--is more of the same.

Let's be blunt here: There is no more witless public-health position than one that targets women's reproductive health. Preventing unwanted pregnancies pays off in multiples by reducing the burden on healthcare institutions and improving women's work and career prospects and the health of their families.

You can always identify people with absolutely no understanding of healthcare and no regard for public health by their attitude toward these services. That includes people who wonder why they should pay for maternity care if they're (1) men or (2) past childbearing or family-raising age, and those who put forth religious scruples to interfere with others' access to these services.

Women's reproductive health is one area where the U.S. has moved distinctly backwards over time, and this sort of stupidity and selfishness is a prime reason. The latest Guttmacher study documents the trend, and it's a national shame. 

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