This may not seem like a lot, but it allows New Jersey’s family planning centers to screen women for potentially fatal diseases like breast cancer and cervical cancer, provide screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, give prenatal care, and dispense contraceptives. In 2009, these family planning agencies provided preventative reproductive health care to 126,903 women and 9,461 men and gave HIV tests to 27,386 people. A majority of the people who access these family planning clinics are low-income; for these families, the clinics can be the only source of affordable reproductive health services.
Discussions of funding for reproductive health services can quickly turn into a debate over whether the government should fund abortion, but this line of argument is misleading and irrelevant. Funding family planning has nothing to do with “saving” abortion, which we concede is a more polarizing issue. State funds are not used to cover abortion services. Instead, well-funded family planning centers help reduce unintended pregnancies and, therefore, reduce the need for abortions. Slashing funds from family planning centers would in fact result in more women seeking abortions.
We are talking about basic services, not luxuries, and cutting them would leave an already unprotected population at risk. Last year, reproductive health centers provided care to almost 100,000 New Jersey residents without health insurance. Pap smears, birth control and other crucial medical services can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars every year, a prohibitive expense for people already struggling to make ends meet. When money gets tight, the demand for birth control goes up — but the cost may become too high. A report released by the Alan Guttmacher Institute in September revealed that “one in four of the women surveyed had put off a gynecological or birth control visit in the past year to save money,” and that a similar number were having trouble paying for birth control. A time when families cannot afford to support children is not a time to make contraceptives prohibitively expensive.
Many of the people who will be affected by these cuts are women who are vulnerable to the wage gap that exists in virtually every occupational category and that places a disproportionate burden on single mothers and women of color. The ability to choose when to have children (and how many to have) is necessary for women to achieve any semblance of social, political, economic and professional equality.
But this isn’t just a “women’s issue.” These clinics often serve as gateways for low-income families who would otherwise not seek out any kind of health care. Men can go to family planning centers to receive vasectomies, screenings and treatments for HIV and other STIs, and tests for testicular, prostate and colon cancer.
Finally, these proposed changes don’t even make economic sense. For every $1 spent on family planning services, the state saves $4 in Medicaid costs. In other words, limited access to contraceptives means poorer sexual health. This would lead to a greater need for treatment that clinics will not be able to satisfy. Budget cuts will therefore actually cost the state far more than they would save. Last year, the unintended pregnancies and abortions prevented by reproductive health centers saved the state more than $150 million in Medicaid costs. Any cuts to family planning shifts the burden straight to Medicaid — to the tune of about $28 million. These cuts are not just shortsighted, misogynistic and classist — they’re completely nonsensical. And they will result in devastating consequences for public health.
We encourage all students who are registered to vote in New Jersey to write to Christie or their state legislators about this budget cut. In a time of economic uncertainty, gambling with the health of hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents is just too dangerous.
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux is a religion major from Charlottesville, Va. Thuy-Lan Lite is a sophomore from St. Louis, Mo. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.