07/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Radical Notion: Women's Health Care as Mainstream

Lately, there have been many convenings to discuss the special arena of "women's health care." At a meeting at the White House a couple of weeks ago, a participant said she would love to see the day when men had to have special meetings about their health care needs. But we aren't there yet. The fact that women reproduce and, therefore, have different types of health care needs makes some folks on Capitol Hill go pale and start to sweat.

We got a small taste of how much fun is in store when more than 30 amendments were filed in the Senate this week to alter the health reform legislation, and further erode women's access to reproductive health care. There was a lot of competition for the worst one, but our office favorite was Senator Tom Coburn's amendment to create an "Office of Unborn Children's Health". No one's totally sure who would staff it or exactly what they would be doing -- but suffice it to say the perennial assault on women's health care is upon us full force.

It's as if we are supposed to apologize because we bear children - gee sorry to interfere with the rest of our health care needs, but - there's this tiny issue of wanting healthy, planned families. Our need to use contraception seems to be an annoyance to some legislators - why should we pay for THAT? Rather than seeing family planning as a rather logical solution to preventing unintended pregnancies and providing preventive health care that actually saves the government money, it becomes an all too easy target.

How reproductive health care is dealt with in health care reform is no small matter. Six in 10 patients who receive care at a women's health center like Planned Parenthood consider it their primary source of health care. And for low-income and young women, they are quite likely to get ob-gyn care at their local Planned Parenthood or other community family planning center. Going to Planned Parenthood for contraception is many women's entry into the health care world - and the great news is that while they are there for contraception, Planned Parenthood health centers can take care of a lot of other basic preventive health care that they might otherwise not receive.

Say cervical cancer screenings. Each year, Planned Parenthood health centers perform nearly one million Pap Tests, identifying 93,000 women at risk of developing cervical cancer.

Or breast exams. More than 850,000 a year. For women like Linda who posted on Facebook, "I went to PP 4 years after my divorce, because his insurance coverage divorced me too! I needed a breast exam and at 59, they found a lump, so deep, by my ribs, I could never have found it myself. They saved my life!" - Planned Parenthood and other essential community providers are the affordable, local access to basic preventive care that saves lives.

To hammer this home, Planned Parenthood is on the airwaves educating the policy folks involved in fixing our health care system, and why women's health care needs to be taken care of in this mega-reform effort. From cancer screenings to contraception to immunizations, the majority of women who go to women's health care centers consider them their primary health care provider. In fact, more than 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood health centers do is preventive and primary care.

Essential community providers, including those who provide women's health care, need to be part of any newly established health care system - the three million patients who came to Planned Parenthood health centers last year can testify to it. Family planning and reproductive health care are unfortunately still not fully part of mainstream health care, even though 98 percent of women use contraception at some point in their lives - there's nothing more universal! Maybe one day we won't need a special campaign to support women's health. But until then, Planned Parenthood is here to make sure women aren't worse off after health care reform than before.