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The Politicization of Sex and Reproduction

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After eight years of the Bush administration's disastrous health care policies, isn't it outrageous that one of the first big fights of the 111th Congress is over family planning? The Medicaid Family Planning State Option -- a simple, cost-effective program allowing states to provide basic reproductive health care to poor women -- would save four dollars for every dollar spent. Yet House Republicans singled out this provision for attack and succeeded in eliminating it from the House passed version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Right-wing Republicans continually use sex as a weapon when they don't have an effective argument to stand on as they did over the stimulus fight. They attack common-sense policies that not only save taxpayers money, but also promote public health. Republicans have now successfully targeted HIV prevention funding in the Senate version of the recovery bill. The vast majority of Americans believe that reproductive health programs -- from comprehensive sex education to science-based HIV/AIDS prevention programs -- deserve public funding. So why are these programs so controversial in Congress?

After years of working on these issues, I concluded that the most harmful politicization of science by extremist Republicans and the religious extremists takes place over issues related to human sexuality and reproduction. My book, Sex, Science, and Stem Cells: Inside the Right Wing Assault on Reason explores how the religious right has politicized sex and reproduction in an effort to further its extremist agenda. My firsthand view from Congress gave me the opportunity to analyze floor debates, committee hearings, and hallway discussions that highlight some of the crazy things happening in Congress when it comes to reproduction -- such the Bush administration and its right-wing supporters pushing abstinence-only sex education programs that have been proven ineffective and insisting that HIV/AIDS programs not offer condoms.

Unfortunately, some politicians are still incapable of thinking rationally about sex and reproduction. We saw it multiple times during the last administration, and we still see it today. Surprisingly, again and again, policymakers turn a blind eye to common-sense prevention and education programs that would reduce unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion. And they stood silently by former President Bush's health care refusal rule that permitted health care workers to deny services based on their own religious beliefs -- all with one aim in mind: to advance their political agenda over common-sense public health policies.

Instead of policies based on extreme ideology, we need to start a new dialogue about reproductive and sexual health that is based on sound, science-based public policies. It's amazing to me that anyone would be against saving taxpayer money and promoting public health -- goals we all presumably share. Change has come to America -- and I think it's high time we put science above politics.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) serves as the Vice Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. This piece is cross posted with www.disruptivewomen.net.

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