"Affordable birth control": No longer an oxymoron

Senate finally reverses high-cost SNAFU.

Published March 11, 2009 2:32PM (EDT)

Freaky Wednesday! News from Planned Parenthood that includes the word "victory!" Late yesterday, the Senate passed the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill that included a provision to make birth control affordable -- once again -- at community health centers and college campus clinics. As a result of a SNAFU in the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act, which tightened eligibility requirements for low-cost drugs, women had been paying up to 10 times more per month for basic contraception (depending on whom you ask, the equivalent of approximately 385 packages of ramen noodles). And, as a result of a SNAFU in the 2004 elections, the legislative branch had not heretofore seemed particularly interested in making the cost-free fix.

"We applaud Congress for righting a wrong that has restricted access to basic but critical preventive health care services, and left millions of women at risk of unintended pregnancy," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said yesterday. "The passing of today's legislation is a victory for women's health and especially for women who have struggled to afford the rising costs of basic contraception in these tough economic times." Planned Parenthood notes that with 14,000 Americans losing health coverage every day, access to basic healthcare -- which, yes, includes affordable birth control -- is more important than ever. (President Obama's -- STILL love that -- re-upping of SCHIP should help, too.)

In related "victory" news, the fatuous anti-abortion/contraception amendments filed (and covered here) last week -- including Jim DeMint's downright dumbass attempt to call the federal-funding-free birth-control fix an "earmark" -- never even made it to the floor. Meaning: Vitter and DeMint's colleagues' response to the proposals was basically, "Yeah, don't even waste our ... Oh, look, a sandwich."

Of course, when it comes to reproductive health and justice, this is not yet Obamatopia; we are so not done. The bill did include, for one thing, a $14 million cut in abstinence-only education, with (long story short) new language stating that remaining grants must support stupid-boy and slutty-girl-based scientifically accurate curricula (PDF). Yeehaw. But that's a cut, not a down-to-zero purge. So today -- Happy Abstinence Day on the Hill!  -- we have to make sure that abstinence-only education (both a "colossal failure" and a "national embarrassment") gets 100 percent un-earmarked for 2010. But as of yesterday, at least, the Senate has spent approximately 385 times more capital than before on common sense.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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