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Preventive Health Care at Risk in Budget Debate, Advocates Say

Contraception, STD screenings, mammograms and Pap smears are among the services provided to Nebraskans who rely on Title X clinics for care. (Nate Grigg/Flickr)
Contraception, STD screenings, mammograms and Pap smears are among the services provided to Nebraskans who rely on Title X clinics for care. (Nate Grigg/Flickr)
March 21, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska's budget debate has been consumed by the fight over Title 10 funding and abortions, and today's hearing in Lincoln is expected to be no different.

A budget provision would deny Title 10 funds to clinics that perform, counsel or refer women to abortion services. As a practicing OB-GYN in Omaha, Dr. Tifany Somer-Shely explained these dollars are designed to be used for preventive screenings, and are not allowed to be used for abortion-related services. But without the funding, she said, clinics around the state could close - which would be particularly hard-felt in rural communities.

"Some of these clinics are the only places that women have access to preventive health care or contraceptive services, sometimes in a 200-mile radius,” Somer-Shely said. “These are women that are going to lose their basic health care - they're going to lose their mammograms, their Pap smears."

According to state data, in 2016 Title 10 clinics served 28,000 clients - including about 3,000 men - and provided services including breast exams, STD screenings, Pap smears and HIV testing. It's also estimated that the same year, Title 10 services in Nebraska prevented more than 6,000 unintended pregnancies and 2,000 abortions.

Jeff Tracy, program director at the Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska, said the preventive work that Title 10 allows clinics to provide is a significant piece of what helps keep families together.

"It's well documented that if you take away birth control, contraceptives and education around planning your family, you are going to see increased incidences of unplanned pregnancies,” Tracy said. “Those are really big events in people's lives when something like that happens."

Somer-Shely said there is also a question of medical ethics at play, as physicians take an oath to not let personal beliefs impact clinical judgment.

"If a patient comes in with an unplanned pregnancy, it is your ethical responsibility to provide them access to all of the options for their care,” Somer-Shely said, “regardless of your own personal or religious belief."

Supporters of the provision argue it would ensure Title 10 funds could still be used for family planning, and that other services offered by clinics would not be impacted. But opponents counter the language in the bill is obscure and puts all Title 10 clinics at risk.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE