As we reported last week, the long fiscal year 2011 budgetary process has begun with the release of the President’s budget request to Congress, which totals $3.8 trillion – the largest budget ever requested by a President. While the President announced a freeze on the overall funding levels for domestic spending, some programs did receive modest increases, but still not enough to meet the health needs of low-income women and girls. The Title X program, which provides essential family planning services to low-income women who may not have access to these services otherwise, received a $9.9 million dollar increase from FY2010 to a total of $327.4 million. In fiscal year 2010, the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant was flat-funded, but this year it received an increase of $11 million dollars for this vital program, which is very encouraging, yet, additional funding is needed so that low-income women in the United States can also have healthy pregnancies. The United States is ranked 41st in terms of maternal mortality, which translates into one in 4,800 women with a lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy. By contrast, fewer than one in 16,400 in the 10 top-ranked industrialized countries will die from pregnancy-related causes. So clearly there is much more that can be done for women living in one of the wealthiest and developed countries in the world.
In addition to increased funding levels, it is very important to ensure that scarce public health dollars are spent as effectively as possible. President Obama has recognized this and for the second year in a row, no funding for abstinence-only programs – which are harmful, misleading and ineffective – was requested. Instead, the President’s budget requests a $19.2 million increase from $110 million in FY2010 for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, which was created through the FY2010 appropriations process. The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative is an important step forward, though comprehensive sexuality education should not only be focused on pregnancy prevention. While unintended pregnancy among young women is a very important issue in this country, any programming funded through this Initiative should take a broad and comprehensive enough approach to touch on the issues of HIV prevention, violence and sexual coercion, gender norms, and gender orientation, among others. We are hopeful that the newly funded Office of Adolescent Health will ensure that young people get the information and services they need to make healthy and informed decisions about their lives.