Not long ago, a prominent religious leader told Star Tribune Editorial Board members in an informal conversation that Planned Parenthood is the "face of abortion" in this country. He said he supported Republican-led national efforts to cut Title X funding to the organization, even though federal law bars those funds from being used for abortions.
Unfortunately, that kind of shortsighted ideological zeal is paying off for social conservatives. Planned Parenthood plans to close six Minnesota clinics on Aug. 1 because of federal budget cuts. None of the clinics provided abortions.
So who will pay the price for the antiabortion ideologues' crippling of Planned Parenthood? Low-income women, men and teens who rely on the clinics, whose health services include breast cancer screenings, Pap smears and contraception, as well as testing for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.
In other words, people who are trying to be responsible about their health and sexuality. Title X funds annually help an estimated 53,000 Minnesotans who turn to Planned Parenthood clinics for subsidized health care. Of those, 94 percent of the patients are women age 18 and older.
The closings in Minnesota are all the more alarming because the number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases increased to a record high last year in the state, according to a new report from the Minnesota Department of Health. The state recorded 17,760 STD cases in 2010, up 5 percent from 2009.
In addition, the six clinics being closed are in areas where there are fewer options for low-income reproductive health services: Albert Lea, Brainerd, Fairmont, Owatonna, Red Wing and Thief River Falls. Planned Parenthood leaders say the loss of these clinics may drive up state health care costs.
But the antiabortion crowd's targeting of Title X funding is misguided for another, more obvious and frightening reason. Taking away people's access to contraception won't drive down abortion rates. If anything, this will drive up those rates as women are forced into desperate situations, particularly in a struggling economy.
Earlier this year, the Guttmacher Institute predicted that the absence of Title X-supported health centers in the state would result in a 17 percent increase in unintended pregnancies and a 24 percent increase in abortions.
This information doesn't matter a whit to conservative dogmatists, such as Minnesota Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose press secretary recently called Planned Parenthood a "heinous organization." Or to the evangelical minister, who told Editorial Board members it was a shame there weren't "Christian clinics" in place as an alternative.
The reality is that Planned Parenthood clinics that don't provide abortions are collateral damage in the war on the organization. Blinded by ideology and in the name of "family values," opponents either fail to see or fail to care about the impact their actions will have on low-income citizens seeking reproductive health care.
Responsible family planning is the kind of family-values platform every Minnesotan should support.
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