Sexually transmitted diseases and teen birth rates are highest in the American South. This is compounded by the fact that one and a half million U.S. households live in extreme poverty today, nearly double the number from twenty years ago. Planned Parenthood and other health care providers provide critical and preventative health care to a lot of low- and moderate-income women and men. With their “gag rule,” the Trump administration is trying to prevent doctors from giving patients the vital reproductive health care they need. This gag rule is more than a budgetary decision. It is an attack on Title X, the nation’s program for affordable birth control and reproductive care that four million people rely on. It is reproductive coercion: a way to establish and maintain power and control by restricting women’s reproductive autonomy, denying her control over decisions related to her reproductive health, and limiting her access to reproductive health options. This gag rule potentially affects individual health care choices, but it will also have larger economic and social impacts for the South more broadly.
If enacted, the “gag rule” would prohibit ANY Title X health care provider from referring patients for abortion, even if that’s what the patient wants, and even if withholding that information threatens their health. It would destroy the trust between patients and doctors. And it would put the health care of the people who depend on Title X at risk. Abortion is not the only, or the most important, service provided by Planned Parenthood. In fact, abortion services make up only 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does. They provide affordable birth control and sex education. They provide more than 800,000 cancer-screening tests for men and women each year. They also provides more than 4.5 million STD tests each year. These services are particularly important to states in the South with high teen birth rates and high rates of teen sexually transmitted disease. Teen pregnancy and childbearing along with the spread of sexually transmitted diseases affect the economic wellbeing of individuals and families as well as states and counties. For example, if a young person has a child in adolescence, it is more difficult for her to achieve an education and other life goals and it affects the future prospects of the children—at considerable cost to taxpayers. In 2010, teen pregnancy and childbirth accounted for at least $9.4 billion in costs to U.S. taxpayers for increased health care and foster care, increased incarceration rates among children of teen parents, and lost tax revenue because of lower educational attainment and income among teen mothers.
Across the South, Planned Parenthood has a vital role in protecting the sexual health of young people. Let me give you an example from Arkansas, where I live. Many young people engage in sexually risky behaviors that can result in unintended health outcomes, such as HIV infection, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and unintended pregnancy. In 2015, among high school students in Arkansas: 46% had engaged in sexual intercourse. Of those sexually active students, 47% did not use a condom and over 80% did not use birth control pills during their last sexual intercourse. In 2012, more than 4,300 girls ages 15 through 19 gave birth.(1) That is about 12 per day. According to a study by Kristen Jozkowski, “Teen mothers are less likely to get higher paying jobs and their kids are also at higher risk, and that can create a cycle of poverty within a state where you have high rates of teen pregnancy and child birth.” Access to contraception and basic sex education is fundamental for the future of Arkansas’s young people.
Research has shown that teen parenthood has a negative impact on a teen’s health and income as well as the state’s economy. It places an economic burden on the individual, and the larger economy is negatively impacted. For example, Arkansas taxpayers spent $3.3 billion in costs associated with teen childbirth between 1991 and 2010. In 2008, Arkansas spent $143 million on teen births. These costs include social programming needed to support child-rearing for teen parents, such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Head Start. Yet Arkansas is one of fourteen states that do not require sex-ed courses for middle and high school students. This gag rule will further limit the resources young people need in terms of access to contraception, education, and reproductive health care.
According to available data, STDs are extremely widespread in Arkansas. In 2014, there were 15,605 cases of chlamydia, 4,539 cases of gonorrhea, 121 cases of syphilis. In 2015, there were 72 new cases of AIDS, and 258 cases of HIV diagnosed in Arkansas. Arkansas ranks 8th in the nation for gonorrhea and chlamydia infections, 28th for syphilis, and 30th for the number of HIV diagnoses. STDs add an estimated to add $14.7 billion to the nation’s healthcare costs each year. This makes Planned Parenthood extremely important, if you consider that 42% of their budget each year is dedicated to STI/STD diagnosis and treatment.
There are a lot of myths about Planned Parenthood, but they do not use federal money to fund abortions. Instead, the organization uses money from other sources — private donors and foundations as well as fees — to fund its abortion services. According to the Washington Post, Planned Parenthood affiliates around the country received $528.4 million in government funds (a combination of state, federal and sometimes local government dollars), according to the organization’s annual report and information it’s required to share with the IRS. Those federal dollars were the single largest source of money coming into the organization and its local affiliates, by far. Another $305.3 million came from non-government sources. The organization also raises another $54.7 million in fees charged for its services. So, government funding — with federal dollars comprising the biggest portion of this part of the organization’s budget — are absolutely critical to Planned Parenthood’s total operation.
Sex education and birth control are basic human rights. Everyone should have the opportunity to make choices that lead to health and wellness. Teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer are uncomfortable topics to discuss. But they don’t go away if we ignore them. Respectful relationship education, access to contraception, access to abortion and post-abortion support for women, and financial and social support for women who want to continue a pregnancy, these are all choices that women have the right to execute and act on. The gag rule is reproductive coercion intended to block people from accessing care and honest information. Tell the Department of Health and Human Services that you oppose this attempt to allow doctors to withhold information from their patients. Donate to Planned Parenthood. And let your state representatives know that reproductive health care is important to you and the health of your state.
(1) In 2013, 3732 abortions were performed in Arkansas. Of those, the majority was performed on women 20 years of age and older. Only 24% were performed on young women under 20 years of age (Arkansas Department of Health, Health Statistics).