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Family leave policies should be a top priority on policymakers’ to-do lists

By Greta Hallberg, Columnist

Planned Parenthood has received a lot of flak since the July leak of an incriminating video that suggested a Planned Parenthood doctor was selling fetal tissue.

Since then, the Republican-led Congress has proposed measures to defund the non-profit. The video is admittedly haunting. The government funds - either through federal grants or Medicaid reimbursements - 41 percent of Planned Parenthood's revenue. While nearly $530 million is a small chunk of the federal budget, it's obviously significant to the organization.

Most of the services Planned Parenthood provides are important preventative measures, especially in women's health. They test and treat STDs, provide contraceptives and screen for breast and cervical cancer. According to its 2013-2014 annual report, just 3 percent of the services it provides are abortions. While not insignificant, it is important to note that abortion services are not the majority of what it does.

Additionally, federal funds are not allowed to go to PP's abortion services under the law. Planned Parenthood's actions might technically be legal, but they have moral and ethical implications. While the video leak is appalling, I'm not certain cutting federal funds to the organization will have the desired effect.

The bigger issue at hand is that the fight over Planned Parenthood has garnered so much attention. Feminists constantly speak out in favor of Planned Parenthood and the valuable services it provides. I'm not discounting that. Heck, I even wrote an article about the value of providing contraceptives in Tuesday's edition of The Student.

What concerns me is how much coverage the media gives government services that go to preventing and terminating unwanted pregnancies. This is coupled with slim coverage of the lack of services for women who want to have children.

What does this say about our values as a society? If media is a reflection of a society's values, we apparently give more importance to terminating and preventing pregnancy rather than embrace starting a family and providing resources for women who truly need it.

Sure, many employers offer paid maternity leave as a benefit. Google and Ernst & Young are among the Fortune 500 companies that offer paid family leave. However, it is not a nationally- mandated policy.

Most Americans would be shocked to know that we are on a short list of countries that do not have national paid maternity leave policies. Suriname, Papua New Guinea and a few Pacific island nations join us. It's safe to say we are the only developed country without such policies. Our closest democratic allies, France and the U.K., offer at least 26 weeks of paid maternal leave. Germany offers 52 weeks or more.

Even more shocking: countries that Americans typically perceive as oppressive toward women, like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, have comprehensive national maternity leave. It's less than 14 weeks, but it's better than the goose egg offered by the United States.

If America wants to continue to be a leader in equality, family leave policies should be higher on the political agenda than Planned Parenthood.

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I am in complete support of preventative measures for unwanted pregnancies. Organizations like Planned Parenthood provide them to women who otherwise cannot afford them. But those measures are already in place. Implementing a national maternity leave policy would be a new change, offering aid to women who want to have a job and raise their children. A true egalitarian feminist should focus on these new policy ideas.

Instead, leaders of the feminist movement are getting their undies in a bundle about the (probably unlikely, in all political reality) defunding of an organization - an organization that will still generate money in other ways if the government slaps it on the wrist by cutting federal funds for two years.

By the way, the most vocal women who speak out loudly in support of Planned Parenthood are usually the political elites that will never use its services anyway. Case in point? Actress Lena Dunham is vocal about the issue, yet has an estimated net worth of $12 million and, likely, a robust insurance plan.

I see a disconnect here.

As champions of human rights, feminist activists and politicians in America should switch their attention to policies that make it possible for women to have jobs and families. Paternal or family leave would alleviate some of the burden of working women and let both sexes share the parenting duties.

Let's focus on passing policies that would promote equality for families that already exist instead of worrying about preventing measures that might not even pass.