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Letters & Op-eds - 2012

Contraception

When did family planning become a risky proposition?

Jon O'Brien

May 2012

To the Editor:

In “Title X: A Proud Past, An Uncertain Future,” Coleman and Jones [1] describe a robust family planning network that was created and maintained in a politically divisive environment. The legislators who crafted Title X 40 years ago kept the focus on their constituents and were able to create centers where “no one is turned away.” This is a true safety net—policy that delivers on the promise of bringing family planning to all who need it and want it. If they could do it then, why has contraception become such a divisive issue today?

It appears that family planning has become a risky proposition in today's congressional climate because of a lack of political will. During the 2011 budget stalemate in which Title X was almost de-funded, it became clear that the divide was all about politics. This model program that makes contraception available for all became a political football. Both Democrats and Republicans revealed that the right of poor and vulnerable families to determine whether and when to have children came a clear second to partisan squabbling.

The bitter politicking did not stop in 2009. In August 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services saw fit to allow religious exemptions to the new guidelines that would cover contraception as preventive care in every person's health insurance.

As the leader of a Catholic organization, I know that our Catholic commitment to the most vulnerable requires us to stand with them—especially when politicians create policies with loopholes that mean they will not have the same benefits that others do. These loopholes affect some who are poor and some who work for religious institutions. This is not weaving the marginalized into the social fabric of opportunities and services we all enjoy. Instead, it ensnares policymakers in the illusion that they must sell out some Americans to benefit others.

Catholics believe that everyone, without exception, deserves the freedom to follow their conscience. Effective family planning and equitable public health policy require a similar commitment to all individuals' moral decision making about contraception—not a patchwork of promises that benefit only some Americans.

This letter was originally published in Contraception.