Congress Is Foiling Americans' Desire for REPRODUCTIVE CHOICE.

Author:Feldt, Gloria

Despite the majority's wishes, legislators are curbing access to services that prevent unintended pregnancy, as well as restricting abortion.

An enduring paradox of American democracy is the chasm that so often separates what the public wants from what its leaders deliver. For instance, take Congress. Even a political novice can see that, on more than a few issues, the apparent agenda of Congress has little or nothing to do with what the public elected it to do. Indeed, when the issues are family planning and reproductive health, one might conclude that the whole idea of serving in Congress is to deliver the exact opposite of what constituents want. Let's examine some of the issues.

What the public wants: According to research conducted for Planned Parenthood by Lake Sosin Snell Perry & Associates, 88% of voters believe contraception and other preventive family planning services are important and 74% favor increased public funding for such services to prevent unintended pregnancies.

What Congress delivers: Year after year, strident anti-choice forces in Congress move against Title X, America's family planning program. This subsidized program provides low-income females with contraception, counseling, and other services that prevent 386,000 unintended pregnancies, 155,000 teenage births, and 183,000 abortions annually. One might speculate as to why many members of Congress who oppose abortion also oppose family planning that prevents unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion.

Each public dollar saves an estimated $3 in what otherwise would be spent in Medicaid costs for pregnancy-related care. Yet, some in Congress annually try to slash funding for the program or attach harmful restrictions, making it far less likely that people will receive the care they need.

What the public wants: A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 75% of Americans favor legislation that would require health insurance plans to pay for birth control. Of that majority, 82% say all prescription methods of contraception--the Pill, IUD, Norplant implants, diaphragms, DepoProvera time-release injections, and cervical caps--should be covered. Currently, just 33% of U.S. indemnity insurance plans that cover other prescription drugs pay for oral contraception. Fewer than 20% of traditional indemnity plans and preferred provider organizations (PPOs) and less than 40% of point of service (POS) networks or HMOs routinely cover the five most effective contraceptives so that women could have a choice.

What Congress delivers: The Equity in Prescription Insurance Contraceptive Coverage Act, legislation that would require insurance plans to cover contraception if they cover other prescriptions, has languished more than a year without a hearing. All the brouhaha over the impotency drug Viagra has focused overdue public attention on this bill. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among others, rightly criticized health insurers for the obvious sexual bias in providing coverage for impotence treatment, but not for female contraception, which would help prevent unintended pregnancy and is eminently more necessary to maintaining health.

What the public wants: Abortion very likely always will be a divisive issue. Even so, six out of 10 American voters agree with the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion...

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