A tried and true tactic of the far right is to inject abortion into the presidential campaign as a divisive tactic. Their goal is twofold: to obscure the broader issue of reproductive and preventive health care and to politicize private, personal decisions made by women and families.
Both Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton have exemplary records when it comes to support for reproductive health care, including efforts to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and reduce the need for abortions. It is Senator John McCain who is out of step with the mainstream, when he says he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, and have the government intrude on private medical decisions.
Sadly, the broad issue of reproductive health has not been discussed widely or debated in this presidential campaign season. Yet, it directly touches every voter:
The single mother who struggles to pay for affordable birth control. The parents who grapple with how to talk with their children about abstinence and sex. Teenage girls having babies before they graduate high school.
Reproductive health care is basic health care, and includes everything from gynecological exams, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and affordable contraception, to testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In addition, medically accurate sex education plays a vital role in improving the health of women, men and families.
Yet, in recent months, we've seen alarming statistics that show we, as a country, are not doing nearly enough.
Last month, a CDC report showed that at least one in four teen girls has an STI. That's one in four teen girls overall, not just sexually active teen girls.
In 2007, the CDC reported that the teen birth rate rose for the first time in 15 years. Add to that the fact that nearly 750,000 teens will get pregnant this year, giving us the highest teen pregnancy rate among developed countries in the world.
These shocking statistics cry out for leadership and commonsense programs that work to reduce our teenage pregnancy rate, educate our teens about how to be healthy and safe, and improve access to prevention programs.
Remarkably, one of the leading presidential candidates, Senator John McCain, is dangerously out of touch on these issues.
In an interview aboard the "Straight Talk Express," McCain said he was "stumped" and "not informed enough" when asked whether "contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV."
As a U.S. senator, McCain has voted against funding programs to reduce the numbers of unintended and teen pregnancies; opposed extending funding for family planning programs that provide reproductive health care to low-income and uninsured women; and voted against requiring insurance coverage of prescription birth control.
Last year, McCain said he supported "the president's policy" on ineffective "abstinence-only" programs.
This out of touch and ideological response to the public health crisis gripping our country is a potential political landmine for Senator McCain. The public outcry over the CDC finding that at least one in four teen girls has an STI has been broad and vocal, with many health and public policy experts calling for a change in the federal government's "abstinence-only" policy. Parents, too, are in favor of this change, with the vast majority of voters supporting schools teaching comprehensive sex education to keep their teens healthy and safe.
As the nation's leading and most trusted women's reproductive health care provider, Planned Parenthood affiliates have doctors, nurses, educators and other staff who work in their communities providing preventive care, ranging from breast and cervical cancer screenings, affordable birth control, health education, and testing and treatment for STIs. This prevention care accounts for ninety-seven percent of our services.
What we hear from Planned Parenthood patients is that they want less political rhetoric, and more access to basic preventive services. A constant refrain in Planned Parenthood is "Prevention Works." Prevention works to reduce teen pregnancy. Prevention works to keep teens healthy and safe and reduce the number of STIs. Prevention works to help plan healthy families.
Prevention works, as Planned Parenthood educational programs and contraception services help prevent an estimated 642,000 unintended pregnancies and 305,000 abortions every year. We hope that Senator McCain will broaden his healthcare agenda to include commonsense prevention measures as well.