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Protecting Family Planning Access Should Be a Shared Priority

Although partisan efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are picking up steam, just two weeks ago we had a temporary but satisfying taste of what it could look and feel like if a spirit of bipartisanship returned to Washington. The president struck a deal with Democratic leaders in Congress to raise the debt ceiling, support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and keep the federal government running for three months. The Senate Appropriations Committee recently passed a spending bill that allocates much-needed funding for a wide range of labor, health and human services and education programs. Many advocates were pleasantly surprised that the measure included positive components for reproductive health, including maintaining level funding of $287 million for Title X, the federal family planning program that more than 4 million low-income people rely on for contraception, sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy tests and life-saving cancer screenings. In contrast, the appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives in July completely eliminated Title X.

In these particularly divisive times, when our country feels more and more polarized with each news cycle, there is an issue that draws overwhelming support across party lines, geographic region, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender and religion: access to contraception. If there is one area where we should all agree, and we largely do – it is that our families, communities, and our economy all benefit when women can protect their health and plan their families, careers and futures. National polling shows that 3 out of 4 people – both Democrats and Republicans – support Title X.

Long before the Affordable Care Act, our elected leaders recognized the value of helping women access contraception and the essential health care they need to space their pregnancies and be active participants in the American workforce. Title X was established in the 1970s as a bipartisan effort. It was championed by then-Rep. George H.W. Bush, who said “family planning should be a household name,” and signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

Although some in Congress and statehouses across the country have taken an extreme turn away from supporting funding for family planning, there are several reasons for them to reverse course, including fiscal savings and jobs.

Half of all pregnancies in our country are unplanned, costing over $11 billion each year. According to the Guttmacher Institute, every $1 invested in family planning saved $7 in public resources.

In California alone, home to the largest Title X system in the nation, program funding supports the provision of family planning services and care to more than 1 million low-income and uninsured patients at nearly 360 health centers operated by our Title X partners and members.  They include federally qualified health centers, community clinics, city and county health departments, universities, hospitals and Planned Parenthood affiliates, and stand-alone women’s health centers.

Title X funding also supports more than 6,500 health care sector jobs in California and tens of thousands more across the country.

Ensuring access to the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives from a robust provider network is also invaluable when it comes to human capital. When we help a woman prevent an unintended pregnancy, we help her finish school, let her decide when and if to become a mother or grow her family, and give her a better chance at achieving her goals and expanding her earning potential.

Next week, the Senate is expected to vote on the Graham-Cassidy ACA repeal bill that could have a devastating impact on the family planning safety net. Our leaders in Congress would be wise to recognize that proposals like this hurt our families and have a negative impact on the public’s health. They should put party aside, let cooperation and common sense return to Washington, and block this bill. It’s time our leaders focus on policies that can bring us together and make our communities healthier and stronger, rather than deepening our divisions and putting our nation’s health and wellness at risk.

Clare Coleman is president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. Julie Rabinovitz is president and CEO of Essential Access Health, the administrator of the Title X program in California.

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Update: This op-ed has been updated to include additional language.