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Defunding Planned Parenthood hurts Arkansans 

Defunding Planned Parenthood hurts Arkansans

Planned Parenthood provides critical and preventative health care to a lot of low- and moderate-income women and men. Contrary to popular belief, abortion is not the only, or the most important, service provided by Planned Parenthood, and federal dollars are not used to provide abortions. In fact, abortion services make up only 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does. And using federal funds to provide abortions has been banned by law in almost all cases since 1976. Instead, Planned Parenthood provides affordable birth control and sex education. It provides more than 800,000 cancer-screening tests for men and women each year. It also provides more than 4.5 million sexually transmitted disease tests for both women and men each year. These services are particularly important in a state with the third highest teen birth rate and a high rate of teen STDs (Arkansas ranked 21st in 2008). Teen pregnancy and childbearing and the spread of STDs affect the economic well-being of the individuals, but also the state. For example, having a child in adolescence makes it more difficult for young people to achieve their educational career, and other life goals and affects the future prospects of their children — at considerable cost to taxpayers. Therefore, it is critical that Gov. Asa Hutchison not defund Planned Parenthood.

In 2013, among high school students in Arkansas, 49.4 percent had engaged in sexual intercourse and 48.9 percent of those students who were currently sexually active did not use a condom during the last instance of sexual intercourse (Center sfor Disease Control State Profiles). In 2012, more than 4,300 girls ages 15 through 19 gave birth. That is approximately 12 per day. Not only does Planned Parenthood provide access to contraception, it also provides basic sex education that is fundamental for the future of Arkansas's young people.

STDs are extremely widespread in Arkansas. In 2013, there were 2,132 cases of chlamydia, 532 cases of gonorrhea, 56 cases of syphilis, 13 cases of AIDS and 26 cases of HIV diagnosed in Southeast Arkansas (Arkansas Department of Health). Arkansas ranks seventh in the nation in the rate of Chlamydia infections, seventh for gonorrhea, ninth for syphilis, and 32nd for the number of HIV diagnoses (Centers for Disease Control State Profiles). STDs add an estimated $14.7 billion to the nation's health care costs each year (Arkansas Department of Health). This makes Planned Parenthood extremely important if you consider that 42 percent of its budget each year is dedicated to STD diagnosis and treatment.

There are many myths about Planned Parenthood. It does not use federal money to fund abortions. Instead, the organization uses money from other sources — private donors and foundations as well as fees — to fund its abortion services.

All Arkansans should have the opportunity to make choices that lead to health and wellness. Teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and cancer are uncomfortable topics to discuss. But they don't go away if we ignore them or stop funding clinics. Access to affordable health care and contraception is key for a healthy Arkansas. Tell Gov. Hutchinson that you want better for the young people in this state and you do not support the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Jodi A. Barnes

Monticello

Wrong direction on prisons

I awakened today to learn of the governor of Arkansas's proposal to build 200 more prison beds for $7.4 million near Pine Bluff. Taking a deep, deep breath, I wonder what we gain from this decision to build more prisons. Hmm, the sheriffs will no longer have the backlog of state prisoners, a good thing, and the public will gain a 200-persons-behind-bars' improved sense of public safety by punishing more of our criminals, most of whom are nonviolent. Again, the up-front value is $7.4 million. But if we knew some of the hidden costs, would we reconsider and think of innovative alternatives? I have to wonder, and hope.

These are some of the hidden costs that matter to me, using simple arithmetic, and are unconsidered in our outreach for public safety, if that is what we choose to call it.

Of the 200 prisoners we will send to this new prison space, an estimated 75 percent are parents of minor children, meaning 378 minor-aged children will lose a parent to incarceration, fall more deeply into poverty with its associated risks, and will gain more risk factors, as this group of children has the greatest volume of risk factors among all at-risk children. And, along the way, many of these children will suffer the emotional harms of stigma and shame so pervasive among children of incarcerated parents. In the long-term, many of these children will pay the cost with poor health outcomes, both physical and mental, and with such a volume of risk factors, the CDC's Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) study tells us their lives are likely to be shortened.

A reliably estimated 20 percent of the children of the planned 200 prisoners will enter foster care at an annual rate of $25,000 per child, equaling an additional $1.9 million in foster care expenditures by the state, with no dollar amount to claim the trauma and harm of separation from their parents. Furthermore, the children who do not enter foster care (80 percent) when their parent is incarcerated will likely remain with a custodial parent whose economic well-being is known to slide further into deeper poverty when the other parent is incarcerated.

Alternatively, the child will reside with a grandparent or relative. If that individual even knows of the TEA-child only public assistance offered in our state for relative caregivers — and most caregivers do not know of its availability — the grandparent or relative will receive cash assistance for one child of $2.70 per day, an amount that has not seen a COLA increase since 1996, when Welfare-to-Work went into effect. We, the public, will chronically complain about such assistance. However, the average number of children per incarcerated parent is three, and the relative caregiver will receive public assistance from opening a TEA-child only case that amounts to $1.83 per day per child, as the rate diminishes with the second and third child.

We certainly do an excellent job of punishing the poor, and we certainly know how to spread the pain of parental incarceration to our children and seniors, along with struggling custodial parents.

Dee Ann Newell

Little Rock

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