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Defunding women's health isn't just irresponsible — it's counterproductive

Defunding Planned Parenthood wouldn't just limit abortion access -- it would also cut off access to contraception that prevents pregnancies in the first place.
A Planned Parenthood location is seen on Aug. 5, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)
A Planned Parenthood location is seen on Aug. 5, 2015 in New York City.

History is repeating itself. In April 2011, Republicans in Congress nearly shut down the government over demands to defund Planned Parenthood and limit abortion access for low-income women in the District of Columbia. Now they are again threatening to shut down the government unless Congress agrees to revoke federal funding for one of the nation’s leading providers of low-cost health care for low-income women and families. And while their attempt to defund Planned Parenthood failed in the Senate last week, you can be sure the partisan attacks on women’s access to critical health services -- including by the 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls -- will continue.

But the real irony of this backward tactic by anti-choice factions is this: Defunding Planned Parenthood wouldn’t just limit women’s right to abortion services; it would also prevent millions of women from accessing contraception that prevents unintended pregnancies, 40% of which end in abortion. A Guttmacher Institute study found that federal funding for family planning and other critical health care services for low-income and uninsured people, known as Title X funding, prevented 345,000 abortions in 2013.

Think about that: government funding for contraceptives helps reduce unplanned pregnancies. But what do conservatives want to do? Make that funding disappear. And the likely result will be an increase in the number of abortions.

Since many unplanned pregnancies end with an abortion, those who profess the goal of reducing the number of abortions performed in America should make increasing access to contraception a fundamental part of that effort. Planned Parenthood and other health clinics that receive public funding for contraception and other health services remain a critical bridge to care for millions of women who are unable to afford private insurance. More than a third of the 6.7 million American women who rely on publicly funded clinics for affordable contraception get their birth control at Planned Parenthood.

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We shouldn’t allow partisan politics to add another obstacle for women who already face too many barriers to quality, affordable health care. We have done so much in recent years to ensure that every American -- regardless of where they live or how much money they have -- can access care. Now it’s time to defend those gains, defend against political attacks on women’s right to the health care they need, and defend Planned Parenthood.

Defunding the 700 Planned Parenthood clinics across the country would also have devastating repercussions for millions of Americans who rely on them for other critical health care services, including cancer screening and infectious disease testing and treatment in their clinics. Each year, Planned Parenthood delivers 10.6 million services including 400,000 cervical cancer screenings, 500,000 breast exams, 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, among millions of other vital health services. Those most affected by shuttering the doors of these clinics are low-income women and families, disproportionately women and families of color. But this context is often ignored by those seeking to defund Planned Parenthood and the services it provides.

"Government funding for contraceptives helps reduce unplanned pregnancies. But what do conservatives want to do? Make that funding disappear."'

And those who claim other health clinics and providers could simply step in to offer care to those affected by permanently closing Planned Parenthood’s doors are operating outside reality. Half of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in rural or underserved areas.

Although Congressional Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted to support federal funding for fetal tissue research in the 1990s, they are free to reverse course and take the extraordinary step of trying to ban this research now. But the doctored videos released by anti-abortion extremists aren’t about protecting women’s health -- they’re a concerted, political assault on women’s right to abortion and other necessary medical care. Even so, due to widespread confusion about the practice as well as advancements in medical research over the last 27 years, Planned Parenthood has advocated a federal review of fetal tissue research for the first time since the Reagan Administration.

RELATED: GOP candidates divided on fetal tissue research

But why let the facts get in the way when the real objective is to score political points? The recent attacks on Planned Parenthood -- including the release of inflammatory videos, as well as Congressional Republicans’ threats to shut down the government -- lay bare the deep disconnect between the highly-charged political rhetoric deployed to defund clinics and deny women health care and the real-world health needs of women and their families.

Playing shutdown politics with millions of women’s health care is not only incredibly irresponsible; for anti-choice forces, defunding Planned Parenthood is also the equivalent of cutting off their nose to spite their face, since defunding Planned Parenthood could actually increase abortions.

Neera Tanden is the President of the Center for American Progress.