Just two weeks ago, our nation was on the brink of a federal shutdown because of congressional conservatives' fanatical focus on demonizing and delegitimatizing Planned Parenthood.
The organization receives funding from Title X of the Public Health Services Act, an act designed to allow low-income women access to the tools they need to live a life of dignity and self-determination and to freely exercise their own decisions as moral agents.
My Catholic commitment to social justice sounded an alarm.
Now those conservatives have set their sights on Minnesota, introducing a bill to deny funds to Planned Parenthood.
Even though the vast majority of family-planning clinics' funding is for essential health services (any abortions performed are funded separately), conservative legislators are trying to put family planning, low-cost contraception, STD testing and treatment, and cervical cancer screenings out of reach for low-income women by dismantling Planned Parenthood's long established statewide network of clinics.
The recession greatly added to the number of uninsured -- nearly 59 million Americans had no health insurance coverage for at least part of 2010, up from 44 million a few years earlier. Sixty-one percent of women served by Title X-funded clinics like Planned Parenthood's are uninsured, filling in the gaps for women who fall through the holes of our social safety net.
In 2008, Title X-funded contraceptive services prevented an estimated 973,000 unintended pregnancies.
Clinics and health centers that receive Title X funds often stay open for those whose lives don't run on a 9-to-5 schedule with paid time off--such as women who work in retail or the health care industry; in-home child care workers; those lacking private transportation; the homeless, and the nearly 3.7 million women who work more than one job.
These family-planning clinics provide services for one in three women of reproductive age seeking an HIV test. For every HIV infection that is prevented, an estimated $355,000 is saved in the cost of providing lifetime HIV treatment. The human impact is priceless.
As Catholics, we are called to weigh moral decisions using the scale of our individual conscience, and to respect other people's right to do the same.
The recession has brought home the reality that any one of us can lose what we have and, like "the least among us," could come to rely on the goodwill of our community.
Are we also going to take away the right of some to make their own decisions about health care and family planning according to their conscience?
Good Friday is a time of somber reflection, a time to consider our call as Catholics to greater social justice and a reminder that the moral test of our state and country comes in how we treat our poor.
Ensuring family-planning services remain accessible to all fulfills the dictates of our faith.
Sen. Scott Dibble is a DFL state legislator from Minneapolis.
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