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The Disastrous Consequences of Defunding Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood

Defunding the organization would greatly reduce access to health care, endangering women and children, writes Reay Earhart.

Despite the failure of the American Health Care Act to make it out of the House of Representatives, there is a strong chance that Republicans in Congress will attempt to pass a stand-alone bill defunding Planned Parenthood. This would be an unmitigated disaster for women in America, and America as a whole.

New providers are unlikely to pick up the slack. The "crisis pregnancy centers" recommended by right-wing organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom do not offer the services that Planned Parenthood does, such as access to birth control, condoms, STI screenings, cancer screenings, and prenatal care. In fact, most offer no medical services whatsoever. Community health clinics lack the capacity to absorb the demand that would be created by defunding Planned Parenthood.

Such was the case in Texas, where defunding of the organization in resulted in loss of access to birth control, contributing to an increase in the birth rate for the poorest women in the state and a jump in the maternal mortality rate. Defunding Planned Parenthood nationwide would dramatically reduce the availability of essential reproductive services to American women. The results would likely be catastrophic.

Here are 10 ugly consequences we would see if Congress goes down this path.

1. More unintended pregnancies

Giving women access to birth control results in fewer unintended pregnancies, and less access increases them. There is ample evidence that access to birth control, particularly long-acting methods, dramatically reduces unintended pregnancy rates. Real-world tests of this theory in Colorado and St. Louis showed a dramatic reduction in unintended pregnancies, on the order of 40 percent.

2. More abortions

If there were no unintended pregnancies, there would be almost no demand for abortions. Access to contraception reduces the unintended pregnancy rate, which in turn reduces the demand for abortions. In Colorado, making long-acting birth control widely available resulted in a 42 percent reduction in the abortion rate for teenagers in the state. In St. Louis, the drop among teenagers was even more startling: It cut the abortion rate to less than one-quarter of the national rate for teens. Taking away access to birth control is will increase unintended pregnancies and increase the demand for abortions.

3. Sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, go up

Services provided by Planned Parenthood include testing for sexually transmitted infections and providing condoms. This is a critical function, since detection of an STI, including HIV, is the starting point for treatment, which reduces communicability. This is particularly true of HIV, for which modern drug treatments reduce viral load to a level where it becomes very unlikely to be transmitted. Untreated, it is much more communicable. Thus, testing is a critical step in preventing HIV from spreading.

The price of shutting down Planned Parenthood was seen in Indiana. After the state defunded Panned Parenthood in 2011, resulting in the eventual closure of five rural clinics, the small town of Austin (population 4,300) saw an outbreak of HIV, with 150 becoming infected. As a result these people will require costly medical care for the rest of their lives. This likely would not have happened if shortsighted Republican legislators had not slashed funding for Planned Parenthood.

4. Increase in maternal deaths

People forget that Planned Parenthood also provides some prenatal care. Texas has enacted some of the most draconian regulations on abortion clinics in the U.S. Some of these regulations have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, but while they were in effect, many clinics in the state closed, and the results were horrific. Pregnancy-related deaths doubled from 2010 to 2012, and Texas now has a far higher maternal death rate than most industrialized nations.

There is significant empirical evidence that eliminating Planned Parenthood will result in the deaths of a lot of pregnant women.

5. Increased costs

When Congress proposed cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood in 2015, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office did an analysis of the costs. It determined that permanently defunding the organization would not save money; it would actually increase costs to the federal government by $130 million over the next decade due to the anticipated increase in unwanted pregnancies. This figure is a very low estimate, as it did not include the additional costs of failing to diagnose cancer and STDs in their earliest stages. Additionally, the CBO estimated that up to 650,000 women would lose access to health care.

6. More women and children living in poverty

Research shows a profound connection between lack of access to reproductive health services -- including contraception and abortion -- and poverty. A study by the University of California, San Francisco, found that women who carried unwanted pregnancies to term were far more likely to live in poverty.

"If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to," Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution, told The New York Times in 2015.

7. Higher infant mortality

Planned Parenthood provides pregnancy testing. About half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so many women who become pregnant are at high risk to begin with. Women who find out they are pregnant early on are much more likely to change unhealthy behaviors that lead to higher infant mortality rates, such as poor eating habits, drinking, smoking, and drug use.

States with limited access to reproductive health care -- Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana -- have the highest infant mortality rates in the U.S., according to a recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics. The lowest infant mortality rates were in Iowa, Vermont, and Massachusetts, where there is much greater access.

8. Higher rates of child abuse and murder

Defunding Planned Parenthood is likely to increase the number of children who are abused, neglected, and murdered. Unwanted children are more likely to be abused or neglected. States with the most restrictive anti-abortion laws have some of the highest rates of children being killed by their parents and caregivers. "Abortion legalization appears to have led to lower rates of total child-maltreatment reports," noted a study by researchers from the Rand Corp. and Occidental College.

9. Higher rates of childhood poverty

Access to reproductive health care reduces maternal poverty rates, and in turn that reduces the number of children living in poverty, as long-term longitudinal studies have found. And taking away these services will increase childhood poverty.

10. More women will die of preventable causes

Defunding Planned Parenthood won't just result in more women dying in childbirth or due to pregnancy complications; it will kill many due to a lack of access to screenings that can catch deadly diseases early, when they are easily treatable. Planned Parenthood provides screenings for breast and cervical cancer to 900,000 women a year. In a single year, the organization detected abnormalities in nearly 88,000 of those women, according to a recent annual report. Deaths due to breast and cervical cancer have been falling for years due to the increased availability of mammograms and Pap smears. If Planned Parenthood were defunded, thousands of women would die needlessly.

The federal government does not provide funding for abortion. The vast majority of services provided by Planned Parenthood (97 percent) are not related to abortion. Defunding Planned Parenthood is an ideologically driven crusade by people who simply do not care what effect this would have on the most vulnerable women and children in America. All the evidence we have suggests that the results would be catastrophic, including increases in poverty and mortality for women and children.

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Reay Earhart