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What you need to know about a major proposal to restore women’s health care


planned parenthood
Photo: Per Swantesson/Stocksy

President Obama’s time in office may be coming to an end, but his efforts are nowhere near over. Case in point? The new rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, that calls to permanently protect Planned Parenthood funding. (Cue celebratory matcha babka in the name of women’s health!)

The proposed rule would be a significant aid to the millions of low-income women across the US who depend on Planned Parenthood’s clinics for basic health care, like breast and cervical cancer screening, testing for HIV and STDs—like the ever-so-common HPV—and birth control.

But it can’t be enacted without your help: Right now the public can comment on the new rule (submit yours here by October 7!), and the Department of Health and Human Services will review them before deciding whether it moves forward or not.

So what is being proposed?

The new regulation has to do with the federal Title X Family Planning Program, which provides funding for health care that roughly 4 million American women depend on.

“Women in nearly half the states in this country have faced political attacks on cancer screenings, birth control, and other basic care.”

Like all federal programs, Title X is barred from paying for abortions. But some state and local governments are cutting Title X funding to clinics that offer up women’s health-related services if they also perform abortions on site. The new federal rule would stop this, and ensure that the women’s health funding (including pregnancy counseling and maternal health programs) will not be held up in an abortion fight—and that women in all states have access to the care they need.

“Women in nearly half the states in this country have faced political attacks on cancer screenings, birth control, and other basic care,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “This rule makes it clear that politicians cannot ignore the law as they pursue their agenda to stop women from getting the care they need.” Praise.

planned parenthood
Photo: Lorie Shaull/Flickr

The consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood

Why is it so essential for women to protect the funding of Planned Parenthood? Well, here’s how not having access to the clinic can affect women’s health: Maternal mortality rates have doubled in Texas since the state began shutting down clinics in 2011.

The US already has the second highest maternal mortality ratio (deaths per 100,000 live births) among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations—plus, we’re the only country whose ratio is getting worse. Not a good look.

“This rule makes it clear that politicians cannot ignore the law as they pursue their agenda to stop women from getting the care they need.”

The defunding in Texas also resulted in a 35 percent decline in usage of effective methods of birth control among low-income women, and a 27 percent increase in births among women who had previously relied upon programs like Planned Parenthood for contraceptive injections, according to a recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine.

A new threat: the Zika virus

Another reason clinics like Planned Parenthood are essential for women’s health? The recent emergence of the Zika virus.

“Right now, one of the best defenses against the birth defects associated with the Zika virus is preventing pregnancy in the first place—access to contraception is crucial,” says Thomas Gellhaus, MD, and president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Title X clinics across the United States and territories play a fundamental role of providing family planning services and counseling to women at risk of exposure.”

How to take action

Until October 7, you can post a formal comment on the Federal Register so that your opinion can be considered before the Department of Health and Human Services makes a decision. To submit, click here and be heard. (Your voice matters!)

The department has a few key tips for making an effective comment (in case this isn’t something you do on a regular basis): Be concise but support your claims, base your reasoning on evidence, and address opposing views. You can read more advice here.

By doing so, you’ll be helping to get millions of Americans the health care they need—so that the state of women’s wellness does not take any more steps backward.

#OurVoteCounts—it’s imperative that our voice be heard during this election. Register to vote at this link if you’re not already. Feeling anxious because of this insane campaign year? Try this outdoor meditation for some major de-stressing