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Nancy Northup

Nancy Northup

Posted May 7, 2009 | 08:37 PM (EST)

Obama Budget Ignores Healthcare Needs of Millions of Women


I am deeply disappointed with President Obama's failure to strike government funding restrictions on abortion, particularly the Hyde Amendment, from his proposed budget for 2010. The budget does, however, propose defunding abstinence-only sex education and creating programs aimed at reducing teen pregnancy.

The Hyde Amendment bans federal funding for abortion in the Medicaid program except under extremely limited circumstances. The President's budget abandons the millions of women who rely on Medicaid and other federal programs for health services, including federal employees and their spouses and dependents, women served by Indian Health Service, women in the Peace Corps and in federal prisons. It appears to clear the way for the District of Columbia to use its public funds for abortion.

At a time in our nation's history when Americans at every income level are losing their jobs and their health benefits, guaranteeing access to affordable, quality healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, is imperative. For millions of women, federal programs are their only means of getting healthcare. Abortion is the only medically necessary health service excluded from Medicaid coverage. Failure to provide that service -- a service that only women need -- is discrimination.

President Obama made clear during the election that he opposes the Hyde Amendment. And for good reason -- over a third of women who rely on Medicaid and are seeking an abortion have been prevented from exercising their constitutional right to an abortion. Hyde unjustly impedes women's access to timely, quality healthcare and disproportionately harms those women who already face significant barriers to obtaining services. Sound public health policy means protecting the well-being of all women.

Congress should step up and eliminate all restrictions on abortion funding, which would demonstrate much needed U.S. leadership and commitment to the human rights principles at the heart of reproductive rights -- dignity, equality, and the ability to make reproductive decisions freely, without coercion or discrimination.

Congress should also strongly support comprehensive sex education in response to the president's call to eliminate the wasteful abstinence-only funding within the budget and fund education programs that have proven effective and research to further develop programs. The federal government has already spent more than $1.3 billion on abstinence-based programs. Another dollar spent on so-called education that values ignorance over knowledge -- no matter the amount -- would be wasteful and defy common sense.

Young people have a fundamental right to receive scientifically accurate and objective information in order to protect their health, including avoiding pregnancy and guarding against STD's. Our government shouldn't deprive our teenagers of that right and we, as taxpayers, certainly shouldn't be paying for it.

Numerous studies, including one authorized by the government, have found that abstinence-only programs do not work, either they fail to delay sexual activity among teens or possibly even discouraging them from using contraception.

The Center for Reproductive Rights urges Congress to provide federal money to support responsible sex education in schools, including science-based, medically accurate, and age-appropriate public health information about both abstinence and contraception.