The sun is blazing at the Jersey shore this month, but no one is feeling the heat more than women in the Garden State. Late last week, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill passed by the legislature to restore $7.5 million in funding for state family planning services. His veto endangers the health of women throughout the state, since without this funding, 136,000 New Jersey women will lose access to basic health care.
The funding, which supports the work of health centers across the state, would have provided lifesaving preventive health care like cancer screenings, contraception, and annual exams to women who otherwise cannot afford this basic care. While Governor Christie himself originally eliminated family planning from the 2011 state budget, both chambers of the General Assembly acknowledged that crucial health services for low-income women were in jeopardy, and they passed a supplemental bill in late June to restore the funds.
But Governor Christie has put politics ahead of women's health.
What does this shortsighted, heartless veto mean? That thousands of low-income women in New Jersey, who rely on Planned Parenthood for affordable preventive care, may be left on their own. Women count on the family planning state program for a host of preventive care, including screenings for cervical cancer, HIV testing and counseling, testing and treatment for other sexually transmitted infections, pre-pregnancy counseling and education, pregnancy testing, access to contraception, and other critical health services. The governor's veto hits especially hard when you consider that health professionals who provide family planning are often the only source of health care services for women and families who have no health insurance coverage.
If you ever needed a lesson in why elections matter, New Jersey is a case in point. Former Governor Jon Corzine added $2 million to promote women's health through family planning services in New Jersey. Christie did just the opposite. Chris Christie eliminated all funds for family planning in the budget. Christie is trying to push through his opposition to family planning under the cover of cost cutting. But women and the state are eventually bound to pay the cost.
Women aren't fooled. The truth is family planning actually saves New Jersey money over the long term. In fact, studies show that every dollar spent on family planning saves the state four dollars in Medicaid costs. Last year alone, family planning services saved New Jersey $150,000,000 in Medicaid costs. Bottom line: family planning and sound fiscal planning go hand in hand.
The good news is Governor Christie doesn't have to have the last word. The people of New Jersey have the opportunity to tell their legislators to override Governor Christie's veto. They must urge their representatives in Trenton to restore these vital funds and to take a stand for women's health.
It's time to put the heat on Governor Christie. From Newark to Atlantic City and everywhere in between, women are at risk for losing health care and there is no time to waste. We need to work to ensure that New Jersey remains a state where women's health matters.
Cecile Richards is president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, PPFA's political and advocacy arm.
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