02/24/2011 12:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Supporting Family Planning Is the Moral Response

I've had a week to think about it, and I'm still horrified that the U.S. House of Representatives voted 240 to 185 to ban Planned Parenthood from federal funding, and then went on to eliminate the Title X program, the community health centers program, the maternal and child health program, and nutrition programs for mothers and children. These cuts are so extreme that I believe that they are an immoral attack on the nation's women, particularly low-income women who depend on these services to have healthy families.

In my early days in the women's health movement, I learned the slogan, "The personal is political." As I've taken in the news coming out of the House of Representatives over the past month, I thought to myself, "The political is also personal."

I worked at a Planned Parenthood affiliate as a volunteer teen counselor in 1976, and then as the Director of Education and Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington between 1981 and 1984. Former Planned Parenthood staff are loyal alumni, and for many of us our time serving women in its clinics remains a career highlight.

I also served in the U.S. Public Health Service during the Carter administration, where I co-wrote the guidelines for family planning in the community health center program and directed a national adolescent health initiative for the Office of Maternal and Child Health.

So I'm taking all the latest attacks on the Title X family planning program, the maternal and child health block grants, and the community health centers program personally. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee announced 70 spending cuts, eliminating these basic health supports. Representative Mike Spence's H.R. 217 denied federal family planning funding to groups that offer abortion services. This is a direct attack not just on Planned Parenthood, but also on the low-income teens, women, and men who depend on their services. The facts are that family planning mitigates the need for abortion, and that every $1 invested in Title X services saves almost $4 in pregnancy-related costs in just the first year. The newly elected House leadership seems to have forgotten their commitment to cost savings in their callous political effort to defund family planning clinics across the country and Planned Parenthood clinics in particular.

It is inconceivable to me that these attacks on access to family planning are coming from those who seek to reduce abortions in the U.S. or overseas. And yet, Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) also filed an amendment last week that would eliminate all funding for international family planning and reproductive health for the remainder of the fiscal year.

As the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Maternal Mortality and Reproductive Justice says, "the sacredness of human life is best upheld when women and men create human life intentionally and women are able to have healthy pregnancies and childbirths. We affirm women and men as moral agents who have the capacity, right, and responsibility to make their own decisions about procreation, including family size and the spacing of their children." Surely they know that family planning reduces the need for abortion. I applaud the president's budget, which included increases for both the Title X program and international reproductive health and family planning.

The House leadership has also escalated attacks on women's access to abortion. H.R. 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion" Act, would deny tax credits and benefits to employers who offer health insurance that includes abortion coverage. Even more draconian, H.R. 358 would allow hospitals to turn away pregnant women who need abortions, even if their lives are in danger. It is beyond incomprehensible to me that a hospital with a religious affiliation would let a woman die rather than provide a legal service.

How dare a hospital or a provider claim to be pro-life while denying life-saving medical procedures! As the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion As a Moral Decision says, "when there is a conflict between the conscience of the provider and the woman, the institution delivering the services has an obligation to assure that the woman's conscience and decision will be respected and that she has access to reproductive health care, either directly or through referral." More than 1,100 clergy nationwide have endorsed this letter.

As a person of faith who supports women's moral agency, I am horrified by what may be the most severe attacks on women's ability to make their own decisions about their reproductive health in the past 35 years. The vast majority of Americans -- and the majority of people of faith -- support and indeed use contraceptives. Millions of people of faith ground their commitment to sexual and reproductive health care in their religious beliefs that affirm that it is precisely because life is sacred that it should never be created carelessly. I am praying that the U.S. Senate rejects their callous attacks on women's health and moral agency in the coming weeks.

The Title X family planning program has helped women and men avoid unintended pregnancies for more than 40 years. It not only saves money, it saves people's lives. Surely that's the only moral response.