The greatest nation on earth nearly had to turn off the lights last week. Please take note of the reason. It wasn't because of terrorism. It wasn't the aftermath of a tsunami or an earthquake. And it certainly was not -- despite some claims -- because of a financial crisis. No. The most powerful nation on the planet nearly went out of business because a few fringe members of Congress wanted to show off their spite for Planned Parenthood. The sideshow seemed finished Friday night, when President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stood firm for women's health and the House leadership folded a losing hand.
Just days later, the small band of believers (House leadership in tow) are back with a fresh attack on Planned Parenthood. This week, at the insistence of House Speaker John Boehner, the House and Senate will vote on a stand-alone version of the same measure that Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana tried to link to last week's short-term spending plan. The measure would explicitly bar one of the nation's oldest, most trusted and most cost-effective family-planning providers from participating in any federal health program. Period. Pence and his allies claim the measure would somehow reduce federal support for abortion, but the public now knows this is a ruse. Congress has prohibited federal funding for abortion for more than 30 years. This measure would cut off access to birth control -- thus increasing the need for abortion -- while also eliminating lifesaving cancer screenings and other vital services. That's not just aggressive. It's bad for women's health.
The Planned Parenthood Mike Pence wants to eliminate looks nothing like the Planned Parenthood that three million patients rely on each year. One American woman in five has received care from a Planned Parenthood health center. Abortion -- a safe, legal procedure -- makes up three percent of our services, not the "well over 90 percent" that Senator Jon Kyl recently claimed on the Senate floor and later had to retract. The rest of our services are basic preventive health care -- affordable, high-quality care that helps avert serious illness rather than treat it at advanced stages. Each year we provide nearly two million screenings to detect breast and cervical cancer early. We also provide nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including half a million HIV tests. And we ensure that nearly 2.5 million people have access to affordable birth control, which reduces unintended pregnancy.
What would Pence's proposal mean to the women we serve? Two thirds of them, the two million whose care is covered by Medicaid and other federal health programs, would lose all access to our health centers. And because Planned Parenthood is the only provider available to many of these women, the loss would be more than an inconvenience. Cutting off our services would amount to cutting off their health care, with tragic and predictable outcomes: more cancer deaths, more undiagnosed HIV and untreated STDs, and more unintended pregnancies, which means more abortion.
Why would anyone pursue such an agenda? Pence may spin this as an effort to control federal spending, but it's nothing of the kind. In fact, his proposal would cost the government money. Family planning saves taxpayers nearly $4 for every $1 invested. Killing family planning would eliminate those savings, and locking Planned Parenthood out of federal programs would make the programs themselves less efficient. We provide high-quality care for less money than other publicly funded providers charge. If all of our three million patients had to get preventive health care from other publicly funded providers, the total cost could rise by as much as $200 million a year.
The recent assault on Planned Parenthood, a 95-year-old organization, has provoked a powerful backlash. Women and men from every community have come forward in vast numbers to stand with us, and reasonable policymakers from both sides of the aisle have paid attention. Continuing these senseless attacks is not only wrongheaded but politically foolish. An April 11 poll by CNN shows that 65 percent of Americans favor continued support for Planned Parenthood. And why wouldn't they? The attack on Planned Parenthood shows indifference to women's health. If adopted, it will deny millions of women access to cancer screenings and birth control. In many communities, it will eliminate a provider of affordable, high-quality care. And it will hit women and families struggling in this economy especially hard.
It's time to end this political vendetta. It's wasting valuable time when our congressional leaders should be focused on getting folks back to work. America has real problems to address, and voters know what they are. The House leadership needs to part ways with these extremists and get back to the business of governing.
Cecile Richards is president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
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