DeGette, Senate majority leader team up to reduce unintended pregnancies, abortions

Following her push to repeal the controversial health care worker “conscience clause” rule being rushed through by the Bush administration, Denver Democrat and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette is pairing up with a big political gun and abortion foe, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), to promote women’s reproductive care in a rare common-ground approach.

The Prevention First Act (S. 21) aims to:

• include contraceptive drugs, devices and services in health care insurance benefit programs, where they are often not covered
• provide emergency contraception information in public education programs
• require hospitals that accept federal funds to provide emergency contraception to victims of sexual assaults
• support medically accurate sex education and research to prevent teen pregnancies in at-risk communities
• offer medically accurate contraception and pregnancy/sexually transmitted diseases/HIV-AIDS prevention information to the public and in family life programs
• expand Medicaid family planning services
• provide discounted drug prices to patients of university-based and safety-net clinics.

The teaming of staunch pro-reproductive rights advocates DeGette and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York) with Reid, a Mormon who is well known for personally opposing abortion, appears to signal a more pragmatic approach than has typically occurred in the ideologically split Capitol.

Said Reid in a joint statement with the congresswomen:

The United States has among the highest rates of unintended pregnancies of all industrialized nations. Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and nearly half of those end in abortion. It is time to come together and enact effective policies that will help to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the number of abortions, and improve access to health care for women. We can find not only common ground, but also common sense in our Prevention First Act.

DeGette hailed the bill as an opportunity to “implement a comprehensive, medically accurate, science-based approach to reducing the need for abortion.”

The sponsors claim that for every $1 spent on family planning services approximately $4 are saved in public health spending.

While always fiscal-hawk crowd-pleasers, budget efficiencies and goal effectiveness of tax-supported family planning programs will likely get even closer scrutiny this congressional session. A new Centers for Disease Control study indicates that national teen pregnancy rates are on the rise — the first time in 15 years. Half the states report increases in teen birth rates in 2006.

In Colorado, the teen mother birth rate of 44 babies per 1,000 young women aged 15-19 remains steady over the last two years after declining 27 percent from 1991 to 2005. The state ranks 20th in the nation behind its intermountain West neighbors New Mexico (No. 2 at 64 babies), Arizona (No. 5 at 62 babies), Nevada (No. 7 at 56 babies), Wyoming (No. 15 at 47 babies).

The bill moves on to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

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Wendy Norris

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