- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2009

Loretta J. Ross, national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective in Atlanta, joked that she was surprised “by the rapidity with which [President] Obama jettisoned the family planning” programs in his $819 billion economic-stimulus package.

“He’s the date I had last night who forgot my name this morning,” Ms. Ross said, noting how much support Mr. Obama received in the election from women, particularly women of color, who count on family-planning services such as contraception.

“If you worship at the altar of bipartisanship, you don’t get what you want and you [tick] your friends off,” Ms. Ross said. “The goal is to get people’s rights protected, get people services and get the economy started.”

Mr. Obama may have scored big with female voters when the first piece of legislation he signed last week was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, strengthening the rights of workers to challenge pay discrimination, which disproportionately affects female workers.

Women, who voted for Mr. Obama in huge numbers, also expressed their elation that another of the new president’s first official orders was to repeal the so-called “global gag rule,” which prevented foreign nongovernmental family-planning groups from receiving U.S. funds if they used any money, even their own, to lobby for or provide for abortions in their countries.

At the same time, however, Mr. Obama “disappointed” a number of women’s rights advocates, such as Ms. Ross, because they contend that he capitulated to the Republican leadership, which again “turned family planning into a political football,” by agreeing to drop the family-planning money from the economic rescue bill. No House Republicans voted for the bill despite the concession.

Ms. Ross said she was disappointed in Mr. Obama, in part because Americans voted for a new direction, and the president should leave lawmakers with Victorian-era attitudes “snapping at the heels of history and say we’re going forward anyway.”

Besides, she added, “calling family planning pork is illogical and belies conservative thinking.”

“To call it pork spending is insulting to the real pain that is going on in society,” she said.

In cyberspace and on talk shows such as PBS’ female-oriented “To the Contrary,” the fiery debate has focused on whether this much-anticipated female- and family-friendly president threw poor women under the bus to win Republican support that was never going to materialize.

The comments that hint at betrayal, such as those from Ms. Ross, are a far cry from the hopeful accolades I heard heaped on the new president during a packed Emily’s List luncheon at the Washington Hilton during the inaugural week activities.

Some of these same women’s advocates and fundraisers are now upset that the president offered little defense of the programs when he asked to remove the funds, and that few of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic colleagues rose to her defense. She was unmercifully ridiculed, primarily by men, for defending including the $87 million in Medicaid family-planning funds in the massive economic-recovery plan.

By the way, those state Medicaid funds would have required hiring additional health care workers, presumably women - unlike the funds for infrastructure and construction projects, presumably benefiting more male workers.

Wasteful spending? Remember the old folk saying, “pennywise and pound foolish.”

As women’s advocates such as on Brady Swenson of RHRealityCheck.org argued, “The Republicans need a fiscal reminder that for every $1 spent on family-planning funds, $4 is saved in overall health care costs.” He said Republicans and reporters repeatedly misstated how much money would be saved ($200 million over five years) with how much would be spent.

Mr. Swenson urged his readers to call the White House seeking a recommitment to the Medicaid funding.

Lon Newman, president of the Wisconsin Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association,, like others, noted that the nonpartisan and fiscally conservative Congressional Budget Office last year projected that in a decade the program “would save $400 million Medicaid each year by preventing unintended pregnancies to women who would be eligible for Medicaid-paid prenatal care and delivery if they became pregnant.”

In addition to improving health care cost-efficiency and outcomes, Mr. Newman said, access to family-planning services directly stimulates the economy by enabling women and their families to fully participate in the work force and to complete their educations.

Their employers also benefit from lower health care insurance premiums. Access to contraceptive services helps keep personnel costs lower by saving on the expense of the rehiring, retraining, family-related medical leaves and loss of productivity that might otherwise occur.

A family-planning advocate for more that two decades, Ms. Ross said politicians often fail to recognize that men and women are affected by unintended pregnancies, which increase child care and child-support payments, again leaving less money for fathers to put back into the economy.

Some silly — or sinister — folks today, mainly male politicians with hidden agendas, I’m sorry to say, pretend they cannot compute when it comes to “Basic Biology 101,” family planning and the milk money, as Ms. Ross suggests.

The opposition, she said, “is very cynical in its manifestation. We’re not even talking about the third rail of abortion here.”

What unnecessarily became an issue in Congress last week under trumped-up rhetoric was simply an attempt to provide for easy and affordable access to birth control, contraceptives and objective counselors. This has a direct impact on a poor parent’s pocketbook in the face of a tough economy, which has an even deeper, crippling effect on their daily lives than it does on the well-heeled politicians who argue against it.

Still, Ms. Ross is taking a wait-and-see approach to see whether the Obama administration makes good on its promises to women’s rights advocates in the form of reinstating family-planning funding and policies here and abroad.

“That’s why I haven’t sent an angry letter to the White House yet,” she said.

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