The “War on Women” Has Reached our Shores
As New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) puts it, the “war on women” has begun. What started out as an attack on women’s rights at the national level has managed to land on New Jersey’s shores and permeate into the heart of the state government. Last year, Governor Chris Christie slashed $7.5 million in family planning funds from the state budget. As a result, six of the state’s 58 family planning centers have been forced to close while even more centers have been forced to lay-off staff and limit operating hours.
These changes will have detrimental effects on women’s health throughout the state of NJ. Not only do these centers provide birth control and other family planning services, for many low income women such centers are their only source of primary healthcare. Without access to primary care, many women will go unchecked for HIV and other STDs, as well as for important signs of pre-cancer. In 2010, clinics in NJ provided family planning and preventative care for 126,903 women and 9,461 men, overall serving 97,129 uninsured women and men throughout the state. However, it must be noted that these centers are open to serving all of NJ’s women, no matter their socio-economic status, insurance status, race, age or other differentiating factors. Therefore these funding cuts do not discriminate in the types of women they have the ability to harm.
The problem here is not one of fiscal responsibility but of political ideology. In the long run, funding the state’s 58 healthcare centers will be much cheaper than paying for increased emergency room visits as well as treatment for more advanced cancers and other diseases. Currently by providing contraceptives, these centers save New Jersey around $156 million Medicaid dollars that would go to pre- and postnatal care, delivery, and infant care. By providing the $7.5 million for family planning, the state saves $4 for every $1 spent. However, the idea that these centers are hotspots for abortion has clouded Governor Christie’s good judgment. Of the remaining 52 clinics, 29 are run by Planned Parenthood and only three of these clinics provide abortions, using no state money to fund the procedure. Instead of sending a message against abortion, Christie is in effect saying that he does not care about the health and reproductive rights of women, particularly women of color or low income women.
In truth these centers are much less about providing women with safe abortions than they are about providing healthcare for uninsured and poor women. In a state with the highest proportion of women living with AIDS in the country, these closures are a serious threat to women’s health. Without access to affordable HIV testing, many women will remain unaware of their serostatus and will not begin receiving life saving anti-retroviral therapy at the earliest possible time. Not only do ARTs extend a woman’s healthy life years between contracting HIV and developing AIDS, they also, according to recent studies, help decrease the transmission rate between partners when taken at the earliest possible time after contracting the virus. The only way that women will be able to protect themselves against HIV is by having the necessary information about the virus as well as the tools to prevent transmission of the disease. By barring women’s access to affordable family planning services we are going back to a time when women were not deemed “intelligent” enough to make decisions about their own health and we are instead allowing a patriarchal state government to make all of the important health decisions for her.