Congress passed the 2012 Appropriations Omnibus. On the one hand this is good and it determines the budget for 2012 and budgets are important. During negotiations Republicans wanted to demolish the family planning as well as all grants to Planned Parenthood. They also wanted to require all grants for sex education programs go to abstinence only programs. The Democrats were able to block these measures, but a few slipped in that are incredibly troublesome from a reproductive health standpoint.
First is that the bill contained a provisions which bans the Washington D.C. from using its own local funds to help low-income women pay for abortions. The Mayor of D.C. along with other city politicians were actually arrested protesting a temporary ban that was already in place. D.C.’s nonvoting representative Eleanor Holmes Norton released a statement lambasting the hypocrisy of congress. In it she states “We will never be satisfied as long as there is a single prohibition on D.C.’s use of its local funds… It is especially ironic that the final sticking point in the negotiations on the conference report was how to promote democracy in Cuba while the bill tramples on democracy in the ‘capital of the free world’ with a rider keeping its residents from spending their own local funds on abortion services for low-income women.”
Another disheartening policy rider included in the bill is a ban on using federal funds to support needle exchange programs. These programs have been proven effective at preventing HIV and Hepatitis C transmission in intravenous drug users as well as their spouses and children. These programs benefit more than just the people using the needles, but apparently Congress decided that drug users and their families are not worthy of protection.
Of course if we look at a third feature of the bill, it makes you wonder if maybe Congress just doesn’t care about reducing HIV/AIDS transmission at all. Another part of the bill cuts 25% of the CDC’s budget for the Division of Adolescent and School Health, specifically to their HIV/STD prevention program. According to a SIECUS press release “For more than two decades, DASH has effectively worked with schools across the country to provide an evidence-based and data driven approach to school health education, including sex education for the prevention of HIV, other STDs, and unintended pregnancy. Research has shown that school health programs can reduce the prevalence of health risk behaviors among young people, have a positive effect on academic performance, and are cost effective.” Meanwhile, another part of the bill adds funding to abstinence only sex education programs which have been proven ineffective numerous times.
So yes, it’s good that the bill passed and it clearly could have been a lot worse. That doesn’t mean I’m not left wondering when the health of American’s became a political bargaining chip.