Editorial: The noisy pots and kettles of reproductive politics
An irony of the Garfield County commissioners’ decision last week to kill a paltry $1,500 grant to Planned Parenthood is that it was decidedly not a pro-life move.
And, given that the commissioners decided to jump into reproductive politics, it’s worth discussing the county’s teen pregnancy rate, which has been among the highest in Colorado. Garfield County has made recent progress in lowering the rate, but the commissioners could and should do more.
On the first point, Planned Parenthood would have used the grant for cervical cancer screening. Denying the money to Planned Parenthood wasn’t accompanied by a proposal for this screening to be performed by another organization, so the move amounts to cutting $1,500 from a potentially lifesaving public health service.
If opposition to Planned Parenthood is based on a pro-life position, and of course it is, eliminating even a little spending in the county for cancer screening is hypocritical.
Moreover, the move inspired a crowdfunding effort that will hand Planned Parenthood 10 times as much money as the grant amount — money that carries no restriction on its use.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, whom we endorsed for re-election last year and consider to be a level-headed leader almost all the time, started all this by saying he was irritated that Planned Parenthood’s political action wing was sending political emails.
Count us as shocked, just shocked, at the pots and kettles clattering about here.
Planned Parenthood is under political attack nationwide. It has formed a separate political action committee that is not silent in the face of often-distorted attacks as politicians around the country work to strangle the organization’s finances. It’s just like the many 501(c)(4) groups that raise and spend money and, golly, even send emails on behalf of conservative causes.
This is how this looks: A politician got some political emails he didn’t like, so he made a political move to deprive the group of a dollop of cancer screening money in a way that plays to his conservative base. Oh, and women can get that lady parts test done somewhere else, but we’re not going to use this little amount of money to help.
This looks for all the world to be petty political retribution that’s also cavalier about women’s health.
Jankovsky said Planned Parenthood does a lot of good work and his motivation was that county human services grant recipients aren’t supposed to be political, but the optics of his action say something much less nuanced — whether you support Planned Parenthood or not.
Further, one famous definition of politics is that it is the allocation of scarce resources, so it’s a little disingenuous to say that the process of choosing grant recipients is divorced of politics.
So the commissioners saw their way clear to kill this grant, but they cannot bring themselves to have the county join one of the nation’s most effective programs against teen pregnancy, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative.
The birth rate among 15- to 19-year-olds in Garfield County was 38.7 per thousand girls in 2013, well above the state rate of 22.3 per thousand and also higher than the rate in the state’s 42 rural counties.
Colorado as a whole succeeded in dropping its teen birthrate by 40 percent in four years after it began offering free, long-acting reversible contraceptives to low-income women through the Family Planning Initiative. The teen abortion rate also has dropped because pregnancies have dropped, and millions in Medicaid spending has been avoided.
Girls who have babies are more likely to drop out of school, less likely to be employed and more likely to be on welfare in their 20s and beyond.
In the face of this statewide success in reducing teen pregnancy, Garfield County doesn’t have an organization receiving money for accessible birth control.
Eagle County, which set up a county-operated program, had a birth rate of 22.6 per thousand teens in 2012, down from 32.4 in 2009.
Montrose County, which receives family planning money through its health department, saw its teen birthrate drop from nearly 50 births per 1,000 girls in 2009 to 28.8 by 2013.
Garfield County told the PI on Friday that its Public Health Department does not utilize the Colorado Family Planning Initiative through any of its programming. If a conversation warrants, Public Health staff may refer clients interested in reversible birth control to Pitkin, Eagle or Mesa counties.
The county’s program to fight teen pregnancy is PREP — Personal Responsibility Education Program — which provides “abstinence-focused comprehensive sexual health education.” It includes information about birth control but not access to birth control methods.
PREP’s program manager said Friday that the county’s teen birthrate dropped to 27 per 1,000 in 2014, which would be a remarkable drop from 2013’s 38.7. That’s worthy of applause, but it still puts the county well above the state average of a year before and at least a year behind Eagle and Montrose counties, whose 2014 rates aren’t yet reported.
Garfield County should embrace the state’s success and work to prevent more teen pregnancy, which drops the abortion rate, saves money and keeps teens from making their lives and their ill-conceived children’s lives immensely more difficult.
That’s pro-life, that’s fiscally sound, that’s level-headed leadership — unlike the symbolic political step of blocking a tiny grant and exacerbating division.
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