In the latest blow to women's reproductive rights, Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in Congress Thursday to pass a controversial bill allowing states to block federal Title X funding to family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood. Restricting Title X has long been a target of the GOP, since some clinics receiving Title X funding also provide abortion services. But cutting Title X funding ignores the fact that taking away that funding will have implications far beyond access to abortion. Does Title X only help women? Like the completely-inaccurate belief that Title X funds abortion (federal funds have been barred from being used for abortions in the United States since the Hyde Amendment passed in 1976 except for some cases of rape, incest, or health risk), it's also inaccurate to think that women are the only ones who will be harmed if states can opt out of providing clinics Title X funding. Because even though women make up the majority of Title X clinic clients, according to the Department of Health and Human Safety, men are benefitting from Title X in increasing numbers.
If the only thing you've heard about Title X is that it funds scary "abortion factories" like Planned Parenthood, then there is a lot of important information you've missed out on. Title X is a government grant program which, for the past four decades, has provided federal funding to family planning clinics that offer health care services to millions of low-income or uninsured Americans. Planned Parenthood is a major recipient of Title X, but the fact that it even receives Title X funds in the first place is a pretty clear indicator that it offers many more services than just abortions (reminder: abortions cannot be funded by Title X — there aren't even exceptions for cases of rape or incest like there are under Medicaid).
According to The Guttmacher Institute, Title X-supported health care centers provide access to health care services for women and men who do not meet Medicaid eligibility requirements, and can include "safety-net" health centers like Planned Parenthood that use public funds to provide contraceptive services and "free or reduced-fee services to at least some clients." While Planned Parenthood may be the most visible or well-known option, safety-net centers are run by various other providers too, like public health departments, hospitals, and community health centers. And while some do provide abortions, the bulk of the services offered at these clinics are far less controversial.
Each year, approximately 2.5 million Americans visit Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers, the majority of whom (80 percent) do so in order to prevent unintended pregnancy. And since men who have sex with women have just as much of a responsibility to prevent unintended pregnancy as their partners do, the continued existence of Planned Parenthood matters for men, too. But pregnancy prevention certainly isn't where it ends: Planned Parenthood is a major resource for testing for sexually transmitted infections (which obviously affect everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity), as well as treatment. In fact, Planned Parenthood alone provides "more than 4.2 million tests and treatments" for STIs each year, "including more than 650,000 HIV tests," according to its website.
Beyond birth control or STI testing, Title X clinics also offer preventative-based, regular primary care services — something which can be a literal life-saver, for both men and women, especially those who may not otherwise have a traditional healthcare provider. And though clinic services vary by location, many Planned Parenthood clinics offer services specifically for men, including colon, prostate, and testicular cancer screenings; access to condoms and vasectomies; help for erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation; male infertility screening and referral; urinary tract infections testing and treatment; as well as just general medical assistance and checkups.
What's more though is that Title X funds help ensure that this kind of health care is actually affordable, which means that many clinics are able to charge patients on a sliding scale. So while restrictions on Title X funding might in theory mean fewer abortions (though statistics show that Title X funding actually lowers the abortion rate), less funding also means that the 4 million men and women who rely on these clinics for general health care services, according to American Progress, may no longer get the help that they need and deserve.
Those in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood have argued that local community health centers that don't provide abortions could take over in the place of those who do, ensuring that the millions of Americans who would be forced to go elsewhere when PP clinics begin to close would still have access to care. The problem though, is that the numbers don't support that idea: according to Vox, there are currently 105 counties in the United States where Planned Parenthood is the only full-service reproductive health clinic, and according to USA Today, a Guttmacher Institute study found that "four in 10 women who go to family planning centers describe the clinics as their only source of medical care."
Furthermore, funding cuts that have already occurred have proven that less money really does means less care. According to USA Today, funding cuts to family planning centers in Texas in 2011 meant that 82 health centers in the state had to close, and the ones that were left were often entirely unable to keep up. As Mary McDowell, Chief Operating Officer of the People's Community Clinic in Austin explained to USA Today in 2015, the state funding cuts meant that the demand on the clinic for family planning services increased to the point where they were unable to accept new adult patients, so they had to turn people away. And when that happens, American College of Emergency Physicians spokesperson Howard Mell explained, patients often either end up in the emergency room due to lack of options — or they just go without care completely.
If you're opposed to abortion at all costs, then defunding Title X might seem worthwhile to restrict access. But what is often overlooked in those debates is that Title X isn't about abortion, but about providing essential, necessary medical care to Americans — particularly low-income men and women, people of color, or other often-marginalized individuals who may not have the ability to get the kind of care they need. When Title X funding becomes a fight against abortion, millions of Americans lose out on affordable, necessary medical care.