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By Julie Rabinovitz, Special to CALmatters

The California Department of Public Health delivered welcome news that adolescent birth rates in our state continue to decline, decreasing by more than 10 percent between 2015 and 2016.

We know that helping teens delay childbirth and reduce their risk of unintended pregnancy gives them a better chance of finishing their education. We also know that delaying birth provides families with greater economic security and results in better maternal and child health outcomes.

The federal Title X family planning program and California’s Family PACT, short for Planning, Access, Treatment and Care, have played a large role in California’s public health success by supporting the delivery of quality, evidence-based family planning services to people who might otherwise lack access to care.

These programs ensure access to birth control, life-saving cancer screenings and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted disease for more than a million low-income women, men, and teens each year.

California’s network of Title X-funded providers is the largest in the country – serving over 25 percent of all Title X patients nationwide, at nearly 370 community clinics and health centers in 38 out of California’s 58 counties.

Publicly-funded family planning programs like Title X and Family PACT are not only good for individual and community health, they are a smart investment. Every dollar spent on contraception saves taxpayers $7 in costs associated with unintended pregnancy.

Despite all this good news, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a notice of proposed rulemaking on June 1 in the Federal Register. The proposal represents some of the most extreme policy changes introduced since Title X was established with bipartisan support and signed by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970. The final rules are expected to be released by the end of the year.

If implemented, these regulations would create barriers to time-sensitive family planning services for low-income patients. They would deter teens from getting the care they need and divert limited federal family planning resources to entities that provide a single method of birth control, including natural family planning or abstinence. They also threaten to undermine the significant efforts California has made over the past three decades in reducing teen birth rates to historic lows.

Although this challenge is real and imminent, we have been here before. The Reagan administration proposed similar regulations, three decades ago. Then as now, we will need all hands on deck to protect Title X and access to evidence-based and comprehensive family planning services for teens and low-income Californians.

In these critical times, we ask that our elected leaders be ready to step up and keep pushing forward to ensure that all Californians, no matter their age, race, income, their immigration status or their insurance status, will have an equal opportunity to plan their families, achieve their dreams and build a better future for all.

Julie Rabinovitz is the president and chief executive officer of Essential Access Health, the administrator of the federal Title X program in California, [email protected] She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.