Nancy Northup is CEO and president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Photo by CRR

Nancy Northup is CEO and president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Photo by CRR

In May, APHA celebrated a major reproductive health victory when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit permanently blocked Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy, upholding more than four decades of Supreme Court precedent affirming that states cannot ban abortion prior to viability. Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement, “The Constitution and the courts are clear: A woman’s right to decide for herself whether to continue or safely and legally end a pregnancy does not change depending on what state she happens to live in.”

However, reproductive health challenges still remain. In a conversation with Public Health Newswire, Northup discussed recent efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, abortion laws and the importance of Title X.

Q: Both APHA and the Center for Reproductive Rights signed onto a letter to House and Senate leadership in support of Planned Parenthood, after video attacks led to legislative efforts to defund the organization which provides affordable, high-quality sexual and reproductive health care for women, men and teens. What is at risk if Congress successfully blocks federal funding for Planned Parenthood?

A: Planned Parenthood serves nearly 3 million people in the United States—with roughly 1 in 5 women having relied on a Planned Parenthood health center for care at some point in her lifetime.

Without federal funding, millions of men, women and teens — especially those in underserved communities — would be denied essential health services, from affordable birth control and sexually transmitted infection treatment to life-saving cancer screenings and annual exams. The real agenda of the groups behind this smear campaign is to deny women of their constitutional rights and end access to safe, legal, critical reproductive care.

All women deserve access to affordable contraception and other basic health services in their own communities. Funding for health care should never be used as a bargaining chip by politicians looking to boost their anti-choice bona fides.

Q: Abortion laws — and restrictions — vary dramatically from state to state. How do the differences in state abortion laws affect our nation’s health, and how do pending court cases continue to pose threats?

In an effort to undermine what they could not otherwise overturn, politicians are attempting to “turn back the clock” to the pre-Roe v. Wade era by imposing dubious regulations that shutter reproductive health care clinics.

These laws are creating sharp disparities in access to care that are troublingly reminiscent of the time before Roe, when access depended on a woman’s finances or where she lived. Under these laws, women and their families endure tremendous hardship trying to exercise their constitutional rights. And for some women who cannot afford to travel elsewhere, they will face an impossible choice between carrying an unintended pregnancy to term or seeking drastic options outside the law. A right that only exists on paper is no right at all.

But the law is on our side. Time and again, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a woman’s constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion care without interference from politicians.

And it’s exactly why we’ve just asked the court to step in once again and take up our legal challenge to Texas sham laws designed to shut down clinics and make abortion access practically nonexistent for countless women, and reaffirm a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy.

Q: Funding for Title X, the only federal grant program dedicated to comprehensive family planning, has fluctuated over the years and is well below FY 2010 funding levels. Why is it important to stabilize this funding stream and restore funding for this program?

Family planning clinics that receive Title X funding not only provide vital reproductive services, they often serve as an entry point into the health care system for young and low-income people in this country. Nearly 4.6 million women and men are served by these health centers, and unless the program is adequately funded, many of these Americans will be unable to obtain these services.

Given that more than half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, funding for family planning services is essential to this country’s public and fiscal health alike.

A: You’ve said that the Affordable Care Act is “the greatest step forward for women’s reproductive health in decades.” How can the public health community continue to provide support for the ACA?

The Affordable Care Act has vastly expanded women’s access to copay-free preventive health care — including contraception, cancer screenings, HIV testing, well-woman visits, prenatal and post-partum care and counseling, and other services. It also bars the denial of coverage for preexisting conditions, including those unique to women, such as pregnancy.

The ACA is helping prevent millions of unintended pregnancies and saves American taxpayers billions of dollars every year. Fewer women now have to choose between birth control and other essential needs. By broadening access to care, the law reinforces every woman’s fundamental right to make her own decisions about her family, her future, and her reproductive health.

It’s important that our elected officials hear stories from their constituents about how the ACA’s expanded health benefits have improved the lives of men, women and families across the U.S. so we can be sure to protect these historic benefits from attacks by politicians who seek to take them away.