Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 7:32 PM on Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Great investment of public funds? Family planning

One of the 20th century's greatest public health achievements? Family planning.

Along with such accomplishments as vaccination and motor vehicle safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently named family planning as one of the most important forces bringing positive changes to America's social and economic landscape. Some of the obvious results are smaller families, fewer deaths of babies and mothers, prevention of unintended pregnancies and lower transmission of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

Beyond these immediate returns are the secondary ones: less poverty, more women able to enter the workforce, and the promotion of self-determination. It's hard to imagine here we'd be without Title X funds (the public funds used to support family planning services) and hard to imagine what the future would look like if Congress eliminates it.

Title X was enacted in 1970 under the Nixon administration. This Republican president was a strong believer in public investment in family planning. He said: "It is clear the domestic family planning services supported by the federal government should be expanded and better integrated. It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition."

Radical? Not then, but some would say so now.

In the late 1960s and 70s, Americans overwhelmingly supported publicly supported family planning because they recognized it for what it is: a range of preventative and primary health services including contraceptive supplies; screenings for cervical and breast cancer; screening for high blood pressure, anemia and diabetes; pregnancy testing; screening for STDs; basic infertility services; and health education. In 1970, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of supporting family planning, and there were very few dissenting votes in the House of Representatives.

But today, some politicians are ignoring the facts and overlooking the needs of American families. A month ago the House of Representatives voted to completely eliminate Title X, and last week, political wrangling over family planning held up budget proceedings until midnight Friday, almost shutting down the federal government .

Here in Homer, Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic receives Title X support through the State of Alaska, and those funds are our mainstay. We serve more than 1,200 women a year, and 100 or so men. We provide well-women annual exams, cancer screening, health checks for men, contraceptives, vasectomies, STD tests and more. Costs can be high but our fees are low or zero — Title X helps make up the difference.

So why so much controversy?

Probably because some people ignore the facts and embrace the myths. Some myths about Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic: We're part of Planned Parenthood — nope. We're independent, community-based and nonprofit, governed right here by our local board of directors. Do we provide abortions? — nope. We offer the same as the other clinics in town — unbiased factual education, information and referrals. Do any Title X clinics provide abortion? Again, no. It's against the law and always has been. Although politicians who oppose Title X claim they're trying to eliminate abortions, their efforts only serve to make it harder for more than 5 million women and men across the country to access basic health services.

Alaska provides a good example of what would happen without Title X funds: almost 9,000 Alaskans would lose basic contraceptive care, including 1,000 people served by Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic. Studies show that loss of these funds would result in more unintended pregnancies, more teen pregnancies and more abortions. In 2008 alone, Title X funding saved American taxpayers $3.4 billion — nearly a 400 percent return on their investment.

Forty years ago, Americans recognized that the ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies and space the time between children promoted more stable families, healthier mothers and the reduction of poverty. But today, some have made family planning into a political issue, putting women and families in the crossfire.

We need to see through the political spin and recognize the facts. Supporting family planning makes sense for American families and for our wallets. Here at Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic we care about our community and know that Title X funding makes it possible for us to serve our varied and diverse population, many of whom would have no other place to turn for basic healthcare and family planning services. Our doors are open.

Michelle Waneka is the executive director of KBFPC. She invites you to support local Title X-services at the Rockabilly Ball Fundraiser this Saturday. For more information on KBFPC, call 235-3436.