Perhaps the most comprehensive measure of sexual health policy currently proposed is the Prevention First Act. An ambitious measure that is nine bills tied into one, the major aims of the Prevention First Act are to reduce unintended pregnancies, reduce the number of abortions and reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
The act represents the closest thing to a compromise on the polarized abortion debate we have seen in a long time. It also cuts costs and allows us to walk the talk on restoring scientific integrity in government.
The debate on reproductive rights remains stalemated with pro-life advocates on the right and pro-choice advocates on the left. But the introduction of the Prevention First Act in 2007 by both pro-life and pro-choice representatives marked a shift in the conversation that directed political will towards prevention and, by extension, to contraception. Because of this bill, there is a growing coalition of social liberals, moderates and even some conservatives in agreement about prevention measures.
According to public opinion polls in a 2005 Guttmacher Institute report, “Promoting Prevention to Reduce the Need for Abortion: Good Policy, Good Politics,” Americans want the government to kick back a few dollars and finance contraception and they would rather have the government paying for contraception than abortion. While I am staunchly pro-choice, I recognize that prevention policy is truly the future — and you should too.
So what about the economic aspect? The Center for Disease Control’s 2007 National Surveillance Data revealed that managing STIs costs the U.S. healthcare system as much as $15.3 billion annually. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter aptly described prevention measures like this: “For every $1 spent on providing family planning services, an estimated $3 is saved in Medicaid expenditures for pregnancy-related and newborn care.” These costs represent savings in the current economic recession.
Perhaps the restoration of scientific integrity is the most compelling argument. On Mar. 9, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that reinforced scientific integrity in policymaking. It’s hard to believe that we are only four months removed from a presidency that languished in religious dogma to make decisions about sexual health policy. Obama’s deferral to the scientific community impacts policy implementation on multiple levels. Namely, it implies that we have already arrived at the point where medically accurate information in public school sex education programs should be the standard. But the Prevention First Act is needed to fully link scientific integrity to an institutionalized standard of disseminating medically accurate information at all levels of reproductive health.
While this act is hawkish about reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions, it is arguably timid on the scourge of STIs. This is largely because prevention efforts toward STIs have been widely synonymous with condom distribution and have lacked political will. In truth, when the term contraception is used in the bill, it disproportionately refers to methods of prescriptive contraception and forms of emergency contraception. This is a one-sided approach to combating the multiple public health challenges that are a result of uninformed sexual decision-making and a lack of insurance coverage.
As such, while condom distribution lacks political traction, provisions in the act should invest financial capital in the research and development of accurate STI tests and vaccinations for both men and women. We should be reminded that no test or vaccine exists for human papillomavirus in men, even though they can carry and transmit strands that cause cervical cancer. A few weeks ago, I talked about the shoddy nature of herpes blood tests and the fact that they can be as low as 50 percent accurate. Policies should address this not only with lip service but also with financial assistance.
Provisions in the act should mandate research and development in STI testing, insurance coverage for STI testing and vaccination. It’s not just at the University Health Service, where the HPV vaccine costs a total of $500 and the lab work for certain tests can amount to hundreds of dollars. This is a national problem, and these costs must be subsidized to depart from the disease care system of today and embark on the preventative health care system of tomorrow.
The Prevention First Act is currently halted at the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions, send them an e-mail and voice your opinion at Help_comments@help.senate.gov.
Rose Afriyie is the Daily’s sex and relationships columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.