By SANDY FLOREZ
School of Communication
University of Miami
Concrete tile, fluorescent light bulbs and the murmurs of a mid-day talk show fill the quiet room. Every girl sitting there has a different story to tell – a 16-year-old anxiously wonders how she is going to tell her parents that in nine months, her life might change.
Beside her is a 45-year-old-woman who waits for a breast exam she should have started taken years ago, but of course, neither of her two part-time jobs would cover. Then there is the graduate student, trying to make ends meet, despite her loans racking up – who comes here to pick up her low-cost birth control. These are the faces of Planned Parenthood, and the people that have the most at stake.
When Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives announced a proposal to implement budget cuts for Planned Parenthood funding in February, many women across the country thought one thing: here we go again.
Essentially, the bill would cut $300 million in federal aid and grants to Planned Parenthood; money that has enabled the organization to provide affordable health care and family planning services to low-income and uninsured women for nearly a century.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who introduced the amendment, argued that de-funding Planned Parenthood would prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortions. According to Pence and supporters of the bill, they are simply complying with the federal Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions.
But that’s the thing – Planned Parenthood has never allocated government funding to their abortion services. Actually, according to Planned Parenthood statistics, only three percent of all their health services are abortion related.
Instead, Planned Parenthood offers an estimated three million women annually with birth control, breast exams, pap tests, cervical cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment and other health services – all which, are services that made readily with the help of taxpayer money. Providing nearly one million pap tests and about 830,000 breast exams each year, de-funding Planned Parenthood may increase the already alarming numbers of women in America that have fallen victim to cervical cancer.
Opposition to the bill stems greatly from the direct health consequences that may affect women who depend greatly on the resources provided for them at Planned Parenthood. According to U.S. Census data on uninsured women and children in 2009, approximately 20 percent of 18-to-64-year-old women in the country are uninsured.
Combine this statistic with the fact that one in five women in the country use one of Planned Parenthood’s services, and you have a significant chunk of the female population that might will be left without proper resources to receive treatment for preventable diseases.
To put things in perspective, Planned Parenthood’s 2008 Annual Report said the organization provided a total of 10,943,609 services. Of these services, 17 percent was cancer screening and prevention.
If you do the math, that’s a staggering 1, 860, 413 services to diagnose and prevent cervical cancer. If that isn’t telling enough of Planned Parenthood’s positive impact in America’s health, take into consideration statistics providing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2007, reports indicated that 12,280 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer. Opposition to the bill argues that number might very well go up if Planned Parenthood is de-funded.
With so much at stake, the proposal has provoked a fierce and passionate divide within the country, where one side is unwilling to support an organization providing abortions while the other fears the historical strides in women’s rights are being threatened.
Clint Diamond, director of Public Relations at Miami-Dade Young Democrats, views the issue as a crucial example of why voters must show up on Election Day and vote democrat.
“If young voters truly care about their reproductive rights and the freedom to make their own medical decisions, they must remember Republican attempts at using legislation to restrict choice during the next election,” said Diamond, 25. “Young voters deserve privacy in their doctor’s office, and we believe that these kinds of decision should be left up to them.”
VOX, an organization that works closely with Planned Parenthood to help raise awareness about sexual health and reproductive rights, has its own chapter at the University of Miami. During the bi-weekly meetings, VOX’s 100 plus members gather to discuss sexually transmitted infections, emergency contraception, the right to choose, and sexual assault. The organization even distributes condoms, provided by Planned Parenthood in order to make sure that all students on campus have the ability practice safe sex
“It is important that we raise awareness on campus so people know that their rights, whether woman or man, are being taken away,” said Mia Esposito, president of the UM VOX chapter.
Although a majority of University of Miami students would not fall under the “low-income” category, young college students may especially become affected by the threat to Planned Parenthood.
“Students are absolutely affected directly by any de-funding of Planned Parenthood or changes in reproductive rights legislation,” said Traci Ardren, dean of the Women and Genders Studies Program at the University of Miami. “Perhaps too many of us take for granted that we have affordable access to reproductive health care and contraception, but the current threats may wake us up and make more students realize how important these rights are.”
In fact, according to a study by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, between 2006 and 2008, 54 percent of women ages 20-24 that were asked, said they were on one form of contraception. In other words, more than half of female college students use birth control. Then take into account that, according to Planned Parenthood’s 2008 Annual Report, 35 percent of its services went to contraception, about 3,830,263. This might explain why many college students prefer using Planned Parenthood’s affordable birth control when telling their parents is not a choice or their part-time retail job doesn’t pay enough to afford it.
“Many college students find themselves without health insurance and Planned Parenthood provides healthcare that empowers them to make responsible decision and lead healthy lives,” said Mayte, Canino, public affairs coordinator at Planned Parenthood of South Florida.
And such may be the case with 28 percent of teens aged 15 to 19 who said they were using contraceptives. Planned Parenthood advocates ask: what will happen to teen girls if they cannot have access to affordable birth control?
“I remember going to a Planned Parenthood facility my senior year of high school and been given a completely free one year supply of birth control,” said Cynthia Hernandez, a senior in the School of Business. “I was young, and if it weren’t for Planned Parenthood giving me such easy access when I was afraid to tell my parents, then who knows what could have happened.”
If the numbers are any indication, then stripping the accessibility to affordable health services for women may lead to dangerous consequences.