Reproductive Rights Groups Beg Obama Not to Cut Family Planning

Twenty-one groups sent a letter to Obama and Congress making the case for an increase in Title X funds.

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Remember when women's reproductive rights activists were joyously celebrating and fist-bumping each other over Barack Obama's election? What a difference a year makes. The morning after the president's State of the Union address, which included a call for a freeze in domestic spending in the 2011 budget, 21 women's groups dashed off a letter begging Obama not to cut funding for federally subsidized family planning clinics. A copy of the letter found its way into my hands.

The letter, also sent to key members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Leader Harry Reid, and those in charge of deciding the final budget, points out that the taxpayer-funded family planning programs under Title X are "woefully underfunded." The letter says that "had Title X kept pace with inflation, it would now be funded at $787 million, instead of its FY 2010 funding level of $317.5 million." The groups were disappointed last year when Obama raised Title X funds by only $10 million instead of the $400 million that they had sought. Now they worry that funds will be frozen or even cut in the 2011 budget that Obama will present to Congress Monday.

The letter, signed by NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Organization of Women, Catholics for Choice, and other groups, calls for an increase in funding of $76.5 million in FY 2011 and indicates that the groups will push hard in Congress for increased funding if the president decides to freeze or cut funds in his own budget proposal.

As I previously reported, family planning clinics have been under considerable financial strain during the recession as more women flock to them for free Pap smears, breast exams, and gynecological checkups, all of which they provide in addition to abortions. Planned Parenthood centers, in particular, saw a spike in visits last year from women who lost their health insurance because they lost their jobs. (Planned Parenthood even launched this ad emphasizing the group's primary-care services.) And some women, facing compounding financial woes, are putting off childbearing for another year or even permanently and accordingly are relying more on contraception.

In the midst of soaring unemployment and rising federal deficits, reproductive rights activists are trying to make their case for an increase in Title X funding by showing that it saves money in the long run. A 2009 Guttmacher Institute report calculated that publicly funded family planning services, at both hospitals and nonprofit clinics, save taxpayers $4 for every $1 spent by preventing nearly 2 million pregnancies and 810,000 abortions every year. We'll see on Monday if the president buys into this logic.