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Hand-Holding Can Lead to Sexy Sex and Other Ungodly Perversions in Tennessee April 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Right Wing, Tennessee.
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04.20.12 – 1:27 PM, www.commondreams.org

by Abby Zimet

Not content with pushing creationism in schools, the Tennessee Senate has seen fit to add “gateway sexual activities” like kissing and hand-holding to sins banned under an abstinence-based sex education curriculum that has to date succeeded in raising seeing their teen birth rate. And teachers can be sued for demonstrating hand-holding. Waytago Tennessee; you and Arizona are tied for first-place lunacy. Up next: bans on pre-gateway activities like eye contact and breathing.

Inside Bush’s War on Birth Control March 27, 2009

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www.truthdig.com, Posted on Mar 26, 2009

By Marie Cocco

    For those whose nostalgia for the Bush administration is unfulfilled by former Vice President Dick Cheney’s snarling television appearance, there is a new window into the soul of the old regime. It is the brutally frank account of how political operatives and ideological helpmates of George W. Bush violated the law in their efforts to keep birth control away from American women—particularly teenagers at the greatest risk of an unplanned and life-altering pregnancy.

    The broad outlines of the case against Bush’s Food and Drug Administration for trying to block the approval of over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill, or Plan B, are widely known. For more than five years, the loyal Bushies at the agency blocked action by subverting science, overruling medical professionals and abandoning FDA standards that have long governed how drugs are switched from prescription-only to over-the-counter availability.

    It was done, of course, at the behest of anti-abortion zealots who consider many commonly used birth control methods as equivalent to terminating a pregnancy. When the FDA finally approved over-the-counter sales in 2006, it restricted them to women 18 and older and tried to impede the pill’s use by insisting that pharmacies keep the drug out of plain view. 

    U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman, ruling in a lawsuit brought by the drug’s sponsors and others, now has ordered the FDA to reconsider the age and availability restrictions on the morning-after pill.

    His decision is a chilling compendium of accounts by doctors and other FDA professionals who were routinely overruled by the president’s political henchmen. Sandra Kweder, a veteran of the agency’s office that dealt with new drugs, testified of being told by superiors that the Bush White House was behind decision-making on the morning-after pill, and “it was made very clear that there were a lot of constituents who would be very unhappy with … an over-the-counter Plan B and … [there was] part of the public that needed to have the message that we were taking adolescents and reproductive issues seriously.”

    But taking these issues seriously would have meant acknowledging that those most likely to benefit from quick availability of birth control after unprotected sex are, in fact, teenagers. In 2004, the court decision says, Curtis Rosebraugh of the FDA’s over-the-counter drug team not only recommended approval, but “he suggested that Plan B could decrease unwanted teen pregnancy by up to 70 percent and reduce teen abortions.”

    The court’s decision is tragically relevant. The teen birth rate has increased for the past two years—after 14 consecutive years of decline.

    Was the FDA’s ideological war on birth control a cause? No one can know. What we know is that it certainly did not help a distraught teenager. 

    Nor did the pernicious spread of federally financed abstinence-only sex education programs during the Bush era. Every sound study of these programs has shown them to have failed at preventing teen sexual activity. Some have indicated that when kids who’ve been through abstinence-only programs do begin to have sex, they are less likely to use birth control. Even Bristol Palin says that telling teens to be abstinent “is not realistic at all.”

    The Obama administration’s FDA is expected to conduct the new review of the morning-after pill that the court ordered. Anti-birth-control advocates are out, scientists are in. There’s little doubt that the drug’s safety and effectiveness—the only considerations that were supposed to be taken into account in the first place—will hold sway.

    Yet White House plans on abstinence-only education programs remain foggy. Its budget blueprint calls for financing “evidence-based” sex education that provides “medically accurate and age-appropriate information” to youths. This is the political code we’ve been forced to start using for giving teenagers the facts about pregnancy and birth control. But the president has also vowed to fund “faith-based efforts” to reduce teen pregnancy.

    It takes a leap of faith, indeed, to see how these two objectives can be reconciled without sacrificing science—and the lives of girls and women who should be able to depend on it.

    Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.

© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

The Morning After Pill Conspiracy March 24, 2009

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by Cristina Page

If Bush waged a war on science then yesterday the war crime tribunal spoke. The U.S. District court of the Eastern District of New York ruled that the Bush administration had politicized a once respected regulatory agency, the FDA, for bending the law to its right wing purposes. The court’s condemnation was comprehensive and brutal, all but labeling the Bushies political criminals. At issue was the FDA’s decision to overrule its staff recommendation and restrict access for adolescents to one of the most effective methods of preventing unwanted pregnancy, emergency contraception. The Court, in one excoriating stroke, reversed the first (and let’s hope last) ideological decision the FDA ever made.

The decision could not have been more dismissive of the Bush administration’s maneuverings. Mincing no words, the Court concluded that the FDA “acted in bad faith and in response to political pressure,” “departed in significant ways from the agency’s normal procedures,” and engaged in “repeated and unreasonable delays.” The court also found that the FDA’s justification for denying over-the-counter access to minors “lacks all credibility,” and was based on “fanciful and wholly unsubstantiated ‘enforcement’ concerns.” The Court ordered the FDA to reconsider it’s decision based on scientific evidence alone. In the meantime, it ordered the agency to make the contraceptive available over-the-counter to 17-year-olds within 30 days as it now does for adults.

The decision comes amidst news that US teen birth rates are spiking for the second year in a row. Those Bush era virginity pledgers are shifting smoothly into teen motherhood — the legacies of ignorance-only sex education and restricted access to and information about contraception.

The decision was prompted by a case, Tummino v. von Eschenbach, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) in 2005. The plaintiffs in the case were a grassroots groups called the Morning After Pill Conspiracy along with over 70 medical and public health organizations, scientists, and parents. For those who did not follow the case closely it’s worth reviewing not only how the Bushies imposed their theological agenda, but how they indifferently bent regulatory procedures. The administration ruthlessly ignored the facts and coerced FDA scientists to implement its anti-science agenda. According to a CRR press release, “Before its action on Plan B (emergency contraception) the FDA had never restricted a non-prescription drug based on a person’s age, nor had the Bush Administration ever been consulted by the FDA about an over-the-counter drug application. Depositions of senior FDA officials by the Center in 2006 indicated that the Bush Administration sought to unduly influence the agency during the Plan B application review process. Testimony also indicated that officials involved in the decision-making process were concerned about losing their jobs if they did not follow the administration’s political directives.” It was in other words, get with the program.

CRR continued: “Other evidence uncovered during the lawsuit showed that the agency repeatedly departed from its own established procedures during the FDA case, from filling the reproductive health committee with political “operatives” to making a decision to reject over-the-counter access to Plan B before completion of the standard review.”

For years, I’ve been following the right’s takeover of what had been a scientifically driven process. In researching a book, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, I studied the violation of the FDA in detail. One fundamental thing I learned: anti-contraception crusaders were not just interested in limiting access for minors. Their true intent was to prevent all women from easy access to the pregnancy prevention method. Their more uncensored leaders, like Judie Brown of the American Life League, admitted as much, explaining, “the best thing the FDA can do now for the American women and their progeny is to take the next logical step and remove these pills for the market altogether.”

In the service of this goal, it seemed that nothing was off limits, not scientific integrity nor the will of the majority. The decision to limit minors’ access to emergency contraception was based on phony arguments put forth in particular by Bush appointee to the FDA panel, David Hager, a long-standing opponent of contraception. Hager’s supposed concern was that the proven usefulness of the medication would be overshadowed by 9 and 10 year olds who would “abuse” the drug, as if it were some sort of crack for kids. During the application review process, Hager called for unavailable research to quell his “concerns” that the drug would be abused by pre-teens. “The plans for introduction of Plan B into the non-treatment setting need more evaluation if it is going to be generalizably available to a nine year old regardless, a ten year old regardless of, you know; there’s no restriction,” Hager explained.

This line of argument shocked other panel members. One, Dr. Abbey Berenson, a professor of pediatrics and ob/gyn at University of Texas, countered, “I would just like to make a point that it is extremely rare that the nine or ten year old has menstrual cycles and so if we’re going to talk about adolescents, let’s talk about the mean age of menarche in this country is 12, and I can’t imagine where a nine-year-old would get $40 to go buy Plan B over the counter and who would buy it for this nine year old.”

The drug had been studied as part of the effort to determine whether EC was safe. Females from twelve to fifty had been sampled, including sixty-six between the age of twelve and sixteen years old. Adolescents understood 60 to 97 percent of the drug-product package directions and materials, at a comprehension level similar to that of women as a whole and one that easily met standards previously accepted for the approval of the other over-the-counter drugs.

Hager continued to create a straw man, or in this case, straw girl, that defenseless nine or ten year old, and then imagined that she was taken advantage of. It was an argument that none of his illustrious fellow panel members thought had merit. Hager nonetheless persisted: “Well I’m sorry, but there are young women that age [under twelve] who do start menstrual cycles and although the numbers aren’t large, it is enough of a concern that if there’s an 11-year old who is having a menstrual period and becoming sexually active, then she chooses to access this means of emergency contraception, and my only point is not the number. It’s that we don’t have any information available on that younger age population.”

Of course, less than six percent of girls younger than age eleven have started their menses, and 4.2 percent of girls under age thirteen are sexually active. Take that microscopic demographic and divide it by the percent that know EC even exists and who also have $40 to drop and you have the nearly non-existent basis for Hager’s, and what would eventually be the FDA’s, argument against extending over-the-counter access to EC for minors.

After the FDA decision to restrict minor’s access to the contraceptive method, several panel members who favored over-the-counter access expressed their outrage at the decision, writing, “If groups with moral objections wish to prevent the sale of a class of drugs, they should proceed through the legislative process. They should not corrupt the scientific review process of the FDA to achieve their ends. We believe it will be very hard to put this genie back in the bottle. We squander public trust at out peril.”

Today, the US district court finally got the anti-contraception genie, and some of the bullying lawless politics of the Bush era, back in the bottle, at least for now. As for the public’s trust, that’ll take a little longer to fix.

For breaking news on threats to birth control access and information visit birthcontrolwatch.org.

Cristina Page is author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex and spokesperson for birthcontrolwatch.org. Page also is a consultant for several national pro-choice groups and her policy proposals have been adopted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Washington State legislature and the New Jersey State legislature.

The Obama Mandate: End Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs February 19, 2009

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Jodi Jacobson on February 18, 2009

www.rhrealitycheck.org

Republicans these days are very, very deeply concerned about “wasteful government spending.”  House Minority Leader John Boehner complained about wasteful spending in the stimulus.  Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana stated: “More big government spending…won’t cure what ails the American economy.”  House Republican Whip Eric Kantor made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows talking “waste, waste, waste.”  And now, according to the New York Times, the National Republican Congressional Committee is launching ads blasting House Democrats on the stimulus bill, which it ridicules as “chockfull of wasteful Washington spending.”

You know what?  I agree.  Let’s get rid of that wasteful Washington spending.

And I have a concrete suggestion that will save over $200 million in cold hard cash right away, plus billions of dollars in future healthcare and related economic costs!

Sound too good to be true?  

Really, it’s not a gimmick.  It’s very simple: We just need to zero out funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the next budget cycle.

These programs don’t work to reduce sexual activity in teens, they don’t work to reduce sexually transmitted infections and they don’t work to reduce unintended pregnancies.

What is worse, they waste money both on the front end and the back end: The failure of these programs to effectively contribute to preventing unintended pregnancies and infections from the outset actually costs more money in the long run.  In 2004, for example, teen childbearing in the United States cost taxpayers at least $9.1 billion, never mind the costs of sexually transmitted infections.  So by investing in abstinence-only programs, taxpayers actually are losing billions at a rapid clip.

So it’s easy.  Eliminate the funding; we all save money now and money later.  

Given the general concern about wasteful spending, the desire to ensure the prudent investments of taxpayer funds in ways that yield positive benefits, concerns about rising health care costs, and the now-overwhelming evidence that abstinence-only programs don’t work, one might assume it will be easy to reach bipartisan agreement that abstinence-only programs, like the bridges to nowhere of the past,  should just be cut.  No bickering, no posturing…pure and simple.  Should be easy.

We will soon find out.

Given they control the White House and Congress, the ball actually is in the Democrats’ court for now.  Several observers have suggested it may be too late to remove funding for abstinence-only from the Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 appropriations bill, which has yet to be passed and which will likely be rolled into a giant omnibus bill to be dealt with by Congress.  (Although given their concerns, perhaps the Republicans will offer an amendment to take it out?)

But President Obama is expected to release his first federal budget request, for FY 2010, at the end of February, and the pressure is on to eliminate ab-only funding in this next fiscal cycle.  A number of leading advocacy groups, including Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS) have launched campaigns urging President Obama to do just that.  Both point to promises made by Obama during the campaign and in his inaugural speech to put an end to these programs, and to ensure evidence drives public policy.  (To take action see Advocates for Youth here, and SIECUS here).

Candidate Obama, for example, “firmly oppose(d) federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.”  He also declared support for “comprehensive sex education that is age-appropriate,” and asserted that providing “science-based sex education in schools [is] the right thing to do.”  As a Senator, he was a co-sponsor of the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act, which would provide funding for comprehensive, medically accurate sex education, and the Prevention First Act which supports efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy and increase access to contraceptive services and information.  Moreover, during the transition, a Congressional liaison from the President-Elect’s transition team reportedly communicated directly to congressional leaders Obama’s firm opposition to continued funding for abstinence-only programs, expressing again his full support for comprehensive approaches.

Still, many advocates want Obama to make this crystal clear when he releases his budget and not, according to fears expressed by some, just give “broad guidance to Congress” as he did with the stimulus package.   They want the White House to make its priorities known.  James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth, notes that:

“What President Obama does on abstinence-only-until-marriage funding in his first budget will be the flagship signal for young people regarding the President’s credibility on reproductive and sexual health issues.  Obama was explicitly supportive of comprehensive sex education and science-based approaches to public policy during his campaign.  This budget must zero out abstinence-only funding.  It simply has to go.”

The majority of Americans apparently agree with Wagoner and the President on comprehensive programming.  According to a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, originally published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the majority of American adults (80.4 percent) favor a balanced approach to sex education in schools, regardless of their political leanings.  The survey gauged strong support for teaching children about both abstinence and other ways of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  And, as Wagoner points out, support for the stimulus package proposed by the President polled 20 points higher among 18 to 29 year olds then the rest of the population, indicating the very high level of political support among young adult voters for “doing the right thing.”

And here is where it gets a little complicated.

First of all, under the Bush Administration, funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs rose from $97.5 million in 2000 to $215 million in 2008.  The funding kept rising, even when Democrats were in control of Congress, and even after numerous studies, including a federally-funded evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and published in April 2007, showed that these programs were ineffective.  The Mathematica study reviewed four carefully selected abstinence-only education programs, and showed that youth enrolled in the programs were no more likely than those not in the programs to delay sexual initiation, to have fewer sexual partners, or to abstain entirely from sex.

Still, the programs retained strong support from powerful organizations, like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and from a wide array of conservative evangelical groups receiving federal funds to promote abstinence-only.  As a result, some members of Congress, including Congressman David Obey, Chair of the Appropriations Committee, have been reluctant to cut such funding in the past.  Obey, for one, comes from a heavily Catholic district near Milwaukee.  Absent a clear message from the White House that the days of abstinence-only are over, some fear that members like Obey may not remove this funding from the House appropriations bill. 

And if the stimulus debacle was any indication, we can anticipate that, despite their concern for waste in government, at least a few Republican leaders will try to twist the debate on funding of abstinence-only programs until the facts lay in tatters on the green room floors of cable stations across the land.  If that happens, then other members, even Democrats, may feel pressured to act against both the evidence and that ever-invoked “will of the American people” just to mollify the loudest in the farthest right.

Because of these complicated politics, nothing is guaranteed.  To ensure the House does the right thing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a strong supporter of evidence-based programs, needs to use her leadership role and make clear to her members from the outset that the goal is to end funding for these programs once and for all. 

Second, there is no line item for comprehensive sexual health education in the federal budget, and bills proactively supporting these programs have yet to be passed.  Related programs also desperately need additional funding.  According to Bill Smith, Vice President for Public Policy at SIECUS:

“The challenge is not just about getting rid of funding for abstinence-only programs, it’s also about fulfilling the committment to fund comprehensive sex education, increasing HIV prevention and Title X funding and about increased funding for the broader reproductive and sexual health services needed by people throughout this country.”

So to really fulfill his own mandate, Obama has to cut out money for programs that don’t work and proactively fund programs that do work, and which people urgently need, like family planning, sexual health education, HIV prevention and the rest. 

For now, however, abstinence-only remains a boondoggle and a dangerous one at that.  Originally reported by Joe Sonka on Amplify, an Advocates for Youth site, and then on RH Reality Check, one such program supported by $800,000 of your tax dollars pays a clown with dubious credentials (ok, I admit I do not know the full curriculum at clown school) to teach adolescents about “saving sex for marriage.”  Great for that first birthday party, but not so much for safer sex, unless he teaches creative use of the balloons.  And even then I am not so sure.  But clearly the content of this program was embarrassing enough that once exposed, both the clown, and Elizabeth’s New Life Center, lucky recipient of all these funds, removed information regarding the program from their respective web sites.

And while the clown example may provide fodder for late-night television comedy, other programs engage in dangerous reinforcement of attitudes and behaviors that denigrate women, blacks, hispanics and homosexuals.  For example, another program uncovered by Amplify, again in Ohio, involved a video role-play of four teens at a party, one of whom, a female, offers to drive her drunk (male) friend home.  When he rapes her, the role-play blames her for “putting herself in a risky situation” and for “having a reputation,” suggesting her claims of rape are suspect.  So this program actually blames the victim for the rape, and dismisses the guy’s behavior as a “boys will be boys” escapade.  Apparently strength of conviction by the organization running this program about the video dissipated as fast as you could say “blog post,” because once again, the video got changed right after the program was exposed.  Shows you what a little “transparency” might find.

Reinforcement of prejudicial attitudes, bias and discrimination based on race and sexual identity also are rife within these programs, many of which are subject to little if any oversight for content.  A report by Legal Momentum, for example, found that many federally funded abstinence-only programs discourage condom use, distort reproductive health information, and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes.  “Many programs also perpetuate sexist and racist stereotypes about women of color,” adds the report.  

One example is ’The Choice Game’ which:

“Has a ‘Midwest School version’ that features 95 percent white students and an ‘urban school version,’ featuring ’55% African-American actors, 24% Hispanic actors and the remaining are Caucasian.’  The urban version contains stereotypes of African-American women as sexually aggressive and as drug users, and of African-American men as likely to end up in jail.  In sharp contrast, the Midwest materials depict white students working to maintain their ‘traditional values.’”

Reports by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union reveal similar findings.  And a 2004 report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that

“over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over two-thirds of grantees [reviewed] in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.” 

In short, the programs reviewed by the Committee took an industrial-size eraser to the line between separation of church and state, relying on heavy does of prosyletizing and religious content to get their ineffective messages across.

Finally, a report by Douglas Kirby, a Senior Research Scientist at ETR Associates conducted for the National Campaign to Reduce Teen Pregnancy stated that:

At present, there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence, or reduces the number of sexual partners. In addition, there is strong evidence from multiple randomized trials demonstrating that some abstinence programs chosen for evaluation because they were believed to be promising actually had no impact on teen sexual behavior. That is, they did not delay the initiation of sex, increase the return to abstinence or decrease the number of sexual partners. At the same time, they did not have a negative impact on the use of condoms or other contraceptives.  Studies of abstinence programs have not produced sufficient evidence to justify their widespread dissemination.

What more do we need to know to avoid putting several hundred million more dollars through a giant shredder?

In this new era of citizen participation, accountability, and respect for  evidence and human rights, it is up to us to ensure our elected officials get rid of this particular barrel of pork.

“On one hand,” says Marcela Howell, Vice President of Policy and Communications at Advocates for Youth, 

“We have a Democratic President who has pledged to get rid of this spending.  We have a majority of Democrats in Congress who have publicly stated opposition to this funding, and we have a Republican party on the hunt for wasteful spending.  It seems like an easy decision.”

It should be easy.  But to be honest, given this situation, if we can’t mobilize enough grassroots strength to ensure the President and Congress get rid of these funds, bring back the clown because the joke is on us.

The 200 Million Dollar Question January 31, 2009

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Cristina Page, www.huffingtonpost.com, January 30, 2009

Remember last week House Republicans, led by Rep. John Boehner, staged a prime-time temper tantrum arguing they couldn’t tolerate spending $200 million on contraceptive coverage, which they reported was part of the stimulus plan? Democrats capitulated and contraception was gone. Now, it turns out there never was a $200 million budget request for contraception included.

Rep. Boehner made a huge “mistake,” one that conveniently served his interests, and that he didn’t step up to correct. A week ago today he stood on television and announced that the stimulus package included hundreds of million of dollars for contraception, on Meet the Press he was more specific saying it would be “over $200 million.” Ever since that dramatic press conference, policy experts have been searching for any mention of such an expenditure. Rep. Henry Waxman called Boehner’s office seeking their source on it, but Boehner’s office is not forthcoming. That’s because the budget item didn’t exist. There is a $200 million figure that appears in the stimulus package for contraception: it refers to the projected cost savings to the states in five years. Good thing the package didn’t include mention of the $700 million it was projected to save states in ten years. One could only imagine the outrage then.

The media perpetuated the Congressman’s self-serving blunder. They used Boehner as an unimpeachable source, not checking to see if his figure was correct. Turns out Boehner is impeachable. The inclusion of contraception in the stimulus package was not a budget allocation but instead a proposal to insert more government efficiency into the process; streamlining the states’ cumbersome application process for Medicaid waivers for family planning services. According to actual documentation by the Congressional Budget Office, in the first three years the provision would not cost more than 50 million each year. They project that after the third year, it costs nothing and the savings to the states would total more than 100 million each year. That’s $200 million in savings by year five. $700 million in savings by year ten.

Currently under Medicaid the federal government acts as if pregnancy is cheaper than preventing it. According to the experts, who have been excluded from this debate, the provision in the stimulus package would have allowed every woman who is already eligible for Medicaid coverage for pregnancy-related care, to be eligible for pregnancy prevention care too. Just under half the states have already requested and received waivers to do exactly this –14 even during the Bush administration. Changing the law would have simply made it much quicker and easier for additional states to expand their Medicaid programs in this way, and for states already with expansions to renew their programs.

Mary Jane Gallagher, President and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, wrote on RH Reality Check,

Right now, Medicaid – the government’s way of paying for health care for low-income women and men – provides funding for pregnancy-related care for women whose incomes are up to a certain percentage of the federal poverty level (roughly $17,600 for a family of three). The provision that was stripped out of the House bill would have allowed states to provide family planning services to anyone who, based on their income, would be eligible for pregnancy-related care under Medicaid. In other words, if you would qualify for pregnancy-related care under Medicaid, you would also qualify to access family planning services, including contraceptives, if you do not wish to become pregnant.

So, a good question for the media to ask Boehner now: “Where did you get the $200 million dollar figure on how much the provision would cost? And when he’s unable or unwilling to answer that, the follow-up question should be, “Why didn’t you correct this mistake? Why did you let it get this out of hand?”

It remains to be seen whether the shock media still perpetuating the story will become as apoplectic about being misled. Will Chris Matthews, who compared offering poor women access to contraception to the coercive forced abortion laws in China, inform his viewers of this news? Will Curtis Sliwa, who appeared on Sean Hannity’s show to announce that making contraception more accessible is part of Nancy Pelosi’s plan to “eliminate minority populations,” be swayed by the truth? Will Neil Cavuto re-examine his proposal to encourage unwanted pregnancy because, “You want more people eventually in this country paying into social security because you have more people retiring.”

We know the answer to those questions. The one question that does remain is “Will Boehner get away with brazenly misleading the public on this issue.” Hopefully some real journalism will emerge to answer this question.

This post originally appeared on RH Reality Check–Information, commentary and community for Reproductive Health and Justice.

Et tu, Barack? January 27, 2009

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Christine Page, January 27, 2009, www.huffingtonpost.com

Yesterday, the Republicans, accompanied by a sadly uninformed media, led a frenzied bitch fest over the inclusion of a family planning provision in the Democrats’ stimulus package. That provision, a mere $200 million of a $825 billion stimulus package, which represents 1/4 of 1%, or 0.225%, of the overall budget, offered a safety net for Americans who need contraceptive coverage but ordinarily would be ineligible for that assistance.

But the ideology-plagued Republicans, and their media enablers, couldn’t seem to figure out why unemployed Americans without health insurance would possibly want, or need, to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. They seemed mystified that a surprise addition of a new family member could batter a no-income family financially, or when multiplied exponentially, a state, and work against everything a stimulus package is supposed to stimulate. Rep. John Boehner wondered aloud, “How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?”

News story after news story reports that many Americans suffering through the collapse of the economy (like the 71,000 who were laid off yesterday) are, among other lifestyle changes, postponing having a child. Planning when to have a child based on whether you can support one seems like a pretty common sense approach. It could even be described as “responsible” which, you will recall, was the overarching theme of our new president’s inaugural speech. One small part of the stimulus package the Democrats presented offered this family planning safety net for Americans who need contraceptive coverage but ordinarily would be ineligible for that assistance. The staged Republican freak-out revealed the degree to which they are out-of-touch with Americans’ lives, as if we needed another reminder. The more disturbing part is how quickly President Obama surrendered to this pressure. Without a single attempt to explain the importance of family planning in the lives of struggling Americans, the White House distanced itself from the provision. After a day of bizarre media misinterpretation of the proposal, Obama spokesman, Bill Burton, told Cybercast News Service that it was not Obama’s idea and that “the principles of what he thought should be in the package–that wasn’t part of that.”

Yet just last Friday Obama, in a statement accompanying his rescinding of the Global Gag Rule, recognized the importance family planning plays in “promoting global economic development” and promised “In the coming weeks, my Administration will initiate a fresh conversation on family planning.” Unless he meant fresh as in impudent and presumptuous, I’m confused. If family planning can promote economic development globally, why won’t it here?

Experts say, it would. According Cory Richards, VP of Public Policy at the Guttmacher Institute, wrote on RH Reality Check,

“Assisting states with their Medicaid programs is a proven and effective strategy for stimulating the economy in times of economic distress. That’s why the stimulus package contains $87 billion to help states with Medicaid costs. One can only assume that Rep. Boehner’s singling out for criticism the Medicaid spending for contraception is politically motivated.Not only is it politically motivated, it is highly ironic coming from a self-described fiscal conservative who repeatedly says the stimulus package should include spending that doesn’t increase the deficit. When the Congressional Budget Office assessed a virtually identical provision in 2007, it found that it would save the federal government $200 million over five years by helping women voluntarily avoid pregnancies that otherwise would result in Medicaid-funded births. An expansion such as the one permitted by the stimulus package could save Rep. Boehner’s state of Ohio $1.4 million in 2009 – money that could make a real difference in a hard-hit state that is struggling with significant budget shortfalls.”

 

The Republican opposition to the family planning provision is without merit but does serve as a perfect tool to misrepresent a thoughtful stimulus package; one that takes in to consideration real people’s lives. And this misrepresentation found a bullhorn in a media that
likes to go light on the facts, especially with regard to reproductive health. (The Republicans and the media, both of which like to think of themselves as loyal opposition, may make a powerful, reckless, and frightening pair.) On his show, Chris Matthews compared the family planning provision in the stimulus package to China’s coercive abortion policy stating:

“I don’t know. It sounds a little like China. I think everybody should have family planning and everybody believes in birth control as a right. I’m for — abortion is a right and all that. It’s all right. But why should the federal government have a policy of reducing the number of births?”

On Fox News, Neil Cavuto bizarrely argued that unwanted pregnancies are good for the economy because, “You want more people eventually in this country paying into social security because you have more people retiring.”

James Pethokoukis, blogger for US News and World Reports, abandoned all journalistic integrity when covering the stimulus package and got all misty-eyed about unwanted pregnancy, stating “This is wrong on so many levels, one of which is looking at children born to the “wrong people” as economic burdens rather gifts, the music makers, the dreamers of dreams. She sees them as a cost instead of blessed benefits. Wow.” Wow is right, this guy writes for US News and World Reports? Guess those layoffs in the publishing industry weren’t broad enough.

After suffering through eight years of attacks on contraception, we come out the other end with surging teen birth rates in 26 states and increases in STDs. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that the cost to taxpayers (federal, state, and local) of teen childbearing in the United States in 2004 alone was $9.1 billion. We know that for every dollar invested in family planning the federal government saves $4. The Republican distortion campaign will, sadly, prevent Americans from understanding what they already know — especially in hard economic times family planning makes sense.

Update: Today, the House Democrats announced they were dropping the contraception provision from the bill.

This post originally appeared on RH Reality Check–Information, commentary and community for Reproductive Health and Justice.

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