In February, Mitt Romney made the shocking statement that he wasn’t concerned about the very poor because he believes there’s a safety net in place to take care of them. Now he apparently doesn’t think low-income women need cancer screenings, well-woman exams or birth control.
While campaigning in Missouri this week, Romney said if elected president, he would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, a move that would cut off nearly three million patients who come to our health centers each year. The recent public debate over women’s health is pretty astounding, especially when you consider it is about providing basic health services like breast and cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and affordable birth control. But what is even more puzzling is who is front and center in the discussion: Catholic bishops, GOP presidential candidates and members of Congress who have sponsored bills limiting access to health services. All are men! And what they are saying is even worse. Rush Limbaugh recently called Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” for supporting access to affordable birth control.
Not only are women not part of the conversation about their own health, but neither are African-American women. As a black woman who has worked at Planned Parenthood for eight years, I found Romney’s comments deeply troubling. I couldn’t help but think, “Seriously? He said what?!”
Given that African-Americans have disproportionately higher rates of many preventable conditions, including cervical cancer, heart disease, diabetes and STIs, it is critical we have access to affordable health care. For example, Black women with cervical cancer are twice as likely to lose their lives to this disease as white women and Black women with breast cancer are more likely to die from the disease. While African-Americans represent 14 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 69 percent of gonorrhea cases and about half of all cases of chlamydia, HIV/AIDS and syphilis. Yet we are also uninsured or underinsured and must often delay care because we don’t have the resources to pay for it. In 2010, 20.5 percent of African-Americans lacked health insurance, compared to 11.7 percent of whites. In addition to that, 76 percent of Planned Parenthood health center patients live on incomes of 150 percent of the federal poverty level or less, the equivalent of about $33,000 a year for a family of four.
The bottom line: Planned Parenthood is a reliable, trusted source of much-needed health services and 400,000 African-Americans come to us for care. Last year, Planned Parenthood health centers provided birth control to two million women — 280,000 of which were African-American — more than four million tests and treatments for STIs and 1.5 million breast and cervical cancer screenings.
So when Romney said he would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood to reduce the deficit, it showed a shocking lack of understanding of family planning, the federal budget and how important it is for African-American communities to have access to affordable health care. Planned Parenthood is the very place that many of us rely on, and it is often the only health provider a patient sees all year.
Romney is dangerously out of step with what most African Americans want — and he simply can’t be trusted. When Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, he actually sought Planned Parenthood’s endorsement and supported access to the full range of reproductive services, including abortion. Now that he is running for president, he has endorsed extreme measures like the so-called “personhood” amendment that would define life as beginning at fertilization — a measure voters in Mississippi overwhelmingly rejected last November. He has also stated he would overturn the Obama administration’s ruling that birth control be covered by health insurance plans without expensive co-pays. And now he is taking aim at basic preventive health care for women, like lifesaving cancer screenings and birth control.
Romney may feel comfortable in his anti-woman bravado — the words “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that” rolled off his tongue so smoothly you almost didn’t notice how extreme the statement was. But let’s be clear: One in five American women has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at some point in her life. More than 90 percent of the services we provide are basic, preventive health care. And 69 percent of voters support federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
If Romney is allowed to ”get rid of” Planned Parenthood, millions of women — including Black women — will have nowhere to turn for basic health care. African-Americans must speak up about the need for access to affordable, high-quality health services in our communities. And we must vote for candidates who support women’s health. So instead of Romney getting rid of Planned Parenthood — or any other organization that provides a vital service to millions of people nationwide — voters can get rid of him.
Carol McDonald is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
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