U.S. Rep. Allen West managed to sound relatively sane for the first hour of his town hall meeting in Palm Beach last night. He used lots of pie charts and graphs to outline bedrock GOP talking points about slashing spending and cutting down on the national debt. Then a woman in the audience asked him a question about the House bill-- which he supported -- that would end federal funding for Planned Parenthood. West's mask of sanity fell off with a thud.
"Planned Parenthood, they can go out and compete for private dollars," he began.
His questioner pointed out that millions of women rely on the organization for basic health
care -- Pap smears, prenatal care, STD testing, birth control pills. If
Planned Parenthood loses funding, where else should uninsured women go?
"It is absolutely offensive to me that Planned Parenthood is located in so many of our black communities," West replied.
The mind boggles with all the possible implications of such a statement. West was drowned out by too much cheering and booing to immediately explain himself further.
But let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Let's say West, a black man, is offended by the notion that black women might need assistance preventing unwanted pregnancy. Well, sometimes reality is offensive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "black and Hispanic youth comprise nearly 60 percent of U.S. teen births in 2009, although they represent only 35 percent of the total population of 15-19 year old females."
Black and Hispanic women are also more likely than white women to be uninsured. Sociologists and economists could have a field day explaining the historical reasons for these statistics, but the fact remains: Planned Parenthood is located in neighborhoods where there's a great need for its services.
So, does West think only suburban white ladies deserve cancer screenings and healthy babies? Does he want poor, minority women to get on a bus and travel across town for their Pap smears? Or does he imagine that if the health clinics and their boxes of free condoms disappear, teenagers will suddenly stop having sex?
Of course, West and other Republicans always focus on Planned Parenthood's abortion services. But here's the truth: Axing funding for Planned Parenthood won't stop abortion. Wealthy women will always be able to pay for that procedure, as well as all kinds of preventative sexual health care. If West wins, he will only be punishing poor, minority women. Without access to condoms, birth control, or prenatal care, abortion may be their last resort.