Let them have herpes and breast cancer! GOP's family planning plan without the spin

Christie and Walker talk tough about their "pro-life" cuts to family planning. Here's what they really did

Published February 27, 2015 5:27PM (EST)

  (AP/Scott Bauer/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Photo collage by Salon)
(AP/Scott Bauer/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Photo collage by Salon)

One of Chris Christie’s biggest boasts at CPAC on Thursday was about his “pro-life” bona fides. (His other big brag: His habit of telling people to shut up.) "I just stand on my record," he told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. "I'm pro-life. I ran on a pro-life platform in 2009. I vetoed Planned Parenthood funding five times out of the New Jersey budget.”

This was a big applause line. Showing how badly you’ve gutted, or how much you’d like to gut, funding for family planning services has become something of a litmus test for Republican presidential hopefuls. Like Christie, Scott Walker eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood under the mantle of attacking abortion access. Rand Paul has previously voted to defund Planned Parenthood and said he would “stop the flow of tax dollars to groups who perform or advocate for abortion.” Marco Rubio joined Paul in the vote to defund the health provider, and has made no secret of his plans to further restrict access.

But because state and federal laws already prohibit public dollars from funding abortion, it’s not abortion access that’s on the chopping block. Instead, going after family planning services eliminates funding for essential preventative care. That means access to cancer screenings, family planning services and STI tests.

What that amounts to is a 2016 GOP platform of Let them have herpes and breast cancer.

Take Christie’s and Walker’s records as a case study in what happens when you grandstand about abortion at the expense of thousands of low-income people who need basic healthcare. (And “basic healthcare” means the ability to avoid pregnancy, safely carry pregnancies to term, check out a lump in your breast and treat syphilis before it makes you lose your vision/go insane. These are not luxury services.)

Christie eliminated all funding for family planning in his 2010 budget. And as Tara Culp-Ressler noted in a report at ThinkProgress, the consequences were drastic. The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association found a 25 percent drop in the state’s ability to provide care for New Jersey’s poorest residents. According to data from Planned Parenthood, the cuts meant that providers performed “far fewer” STI tests than in previous years: “From 2009-2012, the number of gonorrhea tests declined by 24 percent, chlamydia by 28 percent, syphilis by 29 percent, and HIV by 18 percent.”

Walker’s cuts shuttered providers in the state, with four Planned Parenthood clinics in rural Wisconsin folding in 2013 and another closing in 2014. (None of these clinics provided abortion.) In a report on the closures for RH Reality Check, Robin Marty quoted a patient on what the loss of her local clinic meant. “When the governor takes away access to healthcare, he is taking away resources from people like me, people between jobs and without other places to turn to for care,” she said.

The consequences of the GOP’s 2016 purity test on Planned Parenthood have already been felt by thousands of people across the country. They have also turned out to be a fiscal disaster. According to a 2014 analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, for every public dollar invested in family planning, taxpayers save $7. “Public expenditures for the US family planning program not only prevented unintended pregnancies but also reduced the incidence and impact of preterm and [low birth weight] births, STIs, infertility, and cervical cancer,” according to the report. “This investment saved the government billions of public dollars, equivalent to an estimated taxpayer savings of $7.09 for every public dollar spent.”

In sharp contrast to the tone being struck at CPAC, lawmakers in Oregon on Thursday introduced an unprecedentedly sweeping measure to close existing gaps in access to care. As Nina Liss-Schultz reported Thursday at RH Reality Check, the Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill would help to ensure that people in the state have access to a full range of reproductive health services, including abortion. It would require that all health insurance plans fully cover contraception, abortion and a range of pregnancy- and birth-related care. The bill also takes abortion coverage out of the state budget, effectively protecting it from changing political tides.

It is, in other words, the polar opposite of the record that Christie and Walker are building their 2016 reputations on. But while each of the 2016 Republican presidential contenders tries to stoke up his base with tough talk on reproductive health, Oregon may be poised to quietly transform the lives and health of thousands of people. Some would call what Oregon is doing a “pro-life” platform. They'd be correct.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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