By Mark Mellman - 03/29/11 11:42 PM EDT
The Republican zeal for budget-cutting is masking a particularly insidious aspect of their zealotry, unrelated to deficit reduction — the GOP has declared war on women’s health, and heaven only knows why.
Overwhelming majorities of both women and men oppose these cuts, which will mean fewer cancer screenings, more unplanned pregnancies and more abortions while increasing government spending — hardly outcomes Republicans, or anyone else, really want to embrace. But the extreme, and now-dominant, wing of the GOP says it will brook no compromise.
House Republicans began by trying to defund Planned Parenthood, which is in fact a pretty popular organization. Despite being the subject of a dishonest demonization campaign, nearly 60 percent of voters view Planned Parenthood favorably, while only about a quarter harbor unfavorable views of the organization. It’s a strong brand — a lot more popular than, say, the Republican Party, which is viewed unfavorably by more voters than see it in a favorable light.
Planned Parenthood is well-regarded because it plays a vital role in delivering healthcare — over 90 percent of which is preventive. About a quarter of female voters have sought care at a Planned Parenthood health center.
Not content to stop with pillaging Planned Parenthood, Republicans voted to completely wipe out funding for family planning through Title X, zeroing out funds that provide 5 million women with pap smears, breast cancer tests, annual exams and treatment for STDs.
What happens if GOP extremists halt those cancer screenings, stop prevention of STDs and end affordable contraception? Republicans can’t believe defunding Planned Parenthood or Title X will put an end to cancer, or even to sex — it won’t. So the result will be more undetected cancers and more STDs, but also more unplanned pregnancies and more abortions.
Together, Title X and Planned Parenthood help prevent 1 million unwanted pregnancies a year, most of which would end in abortion. The social costs of the unwanted pregnancies carried to term would be enormous. The financial costs are clear. One study found that each dollar invested in family planning saves $3.74 in Medicaid costs later.
The choice is clear: Pay for family planning now, or pay much more later.
And since federal dollars cannot pay for abortions under current law, not one abortion would be stopped by defunding Planned Parenthood. But how much would the government save? Not a dime. In fact, switching all of Planned Parenthood’s clients to another provider would add nearly $300 million to the federal budget because Planned Parenthood is by far the most cost-effective in delivering those services.
If Republicans are increasing government spending and endangering women’s health, they must spy a political payoff, right? Quite the contrary — two different polls find majorities opposed to eliminating government funding for Planned Parenthood.
National polling indicates some 70 percent of voters oppose ending family planning assistance more broadly. In Wisconsin, a survey we conducted found voters opposing an end to government funding for family planning by 65 percent to 28. Why? Because 38 percent believe it is at least very likely more women will die of cancer as a result. Because 43 percent believe it is at least very likely that there will be more unplanned pregnancies. Because 46 percent believe it is at least very likely that healthcare costs for the rest of us will increase. Because 56 percent believe it is at least very likely that fewer women will have access to preventive healthcare.
The Republican war on women’s health will increase, not reduce, government spending, while putting lives at risk.
President Clinton once famously opined that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” The Republican’s war on women’s health will make abortion unsafe, illegal and more common.
It’s time for thoughtful GOPers to call a truce before they do irreparable harm to women’s health and to themselves.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the Majority Leader of the Senate and the Democratic Whip in the House.