Our sex-crazed Congress

Protestors show support for Planned Parenthood in Missouri July 28. Planned Parenthood uses Title X funding to perform abortions and provide other services.
Protestors show support for Planned Parenthood in Missouri July 28. Planned Parenthood uses Title X funding to perform abortions and provide other services. AP

To appreciate the dumbing down of American politics, consider this: House Republicans, indignant about abortion, are trying to destroy a government program that helps prevent 345,000 abortions a year – Title X.

The upshot would be more pregnancies, more abortions, more sexually transmitted infections and more women dying of cervical and breast cancer. Ending the program would impoverish young mothers and impede formation of two-parent families that conservatives rightly argue help overcome poverty.

It’s baffling that anyone would try to eliminate a 45-year-old bipartisan initiative that is an anti-poverty success as well as America’s most successful anti-abortion initiative.

Title X began in the Republican administration of Richard Nixon. Today, 4,100 clinics supported by Title X provide family planning and cure sexually transmitted infections.

I visited a Title X clinic in Baltimore. This is what House Republicans are trying to destroy:

A 16-year-old girl, nicknamed China, is being treated for gonorrhea and chlamydia.

“The last time you had sex, did you use a condom?” asks Courtney Pate, a nurse practitioner. China shakes her head.

Pate hands her a bag of condoms and warns her that if she doesn’t use one every time, she risks serious health problems. Pate also grills her on whether she has told her sexual partners about the infections and whether they are getting treated.

When Pate steps out, I ask China if her boyfriend will accept condoms. She looks doubtful and says, “Maybe.”

China tells me she doesn’t have any other way of getting birth control or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Without this clinic, she says, she might well be pregnant and be spreading infections.

I also met Doretta who, after a pelvic exam at the clinic, received a diagnosis of cervical cancer. The good news is that it was found early and treated, and she is expected to be fine.

Title X isn’t directly related to the furor over video footage showing Planned Parenthood staff members speaking cavalierly about fetal tissues. The effort to eliminate Title X goes back much earlier.

Since 1980, inflation-adjusted spending on Title X family planning has fallen by two-thirds. Now the House proposes eliminating it altogether, while the Senate proposes a 10 percent cut.

This in a country where half of all pregnancies are unintended – where 30 percent of American teenage girls become pregnant by age 19.

The Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health, calculates that Title X family planning centers prevent about 1 million unintended pregnancies a year, of which 345,000 would have ended in abortion. In other words, Title X prevents about one abortion every 90 seconds.

Family planning also offers hedge fund-like returns, as a condom or birth control can avert more than $12,000 in average Medicaid spending on a childbirth. Guttmacher calculates that every $1 invested in public family planning services saves $7 in public expenditures.

Opponents of Title X preen and moralize, even as their behavior has immoral consequences. Conservatives emphasize that poverty is linked to personal irresponsibility. Are youths like China irresponsible to have sex without a condom? Sure they are! But what’s harder to understand is the irresponsibility of House Republicans.

My question to them: Do you really want to increase the odds that kids like China get pregnant, spread disease, become impoverished single mothers, get abortions or die of cervical cancer, and do you really think this is moral behavior to be proud of?

Nicholas Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times.