At age 27, “Colleen” discovered a lump in her breast. With no health insurance and little money in the bank, she knew she couldn’t afford a visit to a private doctor. She actually considered ignoring that lump. She thought again when she considered her family’s history of breast cancer.

That brought Colleen to Planned Parenthood, where she learned that lump was invasive stage two breast cancer. It would become a life-saving move. Colleen is alive today because of assistance she received through Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile, in Washington, a war is being mounted by a small faction of lawmakers determined to shut down the entire U.S. government over the very program that saved Colleen’s life. This group of about 40 tea party extremists is demanding to defund women’s health care providers as the price for doing anything and everything else. And their backward thinking may cause a government shutdown and America’s first-ever default on its debts in just a few short weeks.

 

I recently visited the Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey in Camden to learn more about how they’re helping our community. What I saw was middle-income and low-income men, women, and families from across our region receiving cancer screenings, infection and disease prevention and education, and family planning medical care. They also assist victims of domestic abuse, like “Helen” from South Jersey. Helen turned to Planned Parenthood after a violent episode at the hands of her husband. Now they’re working to place her in a shelter out of harm’s way.

This is what Congress is fighting over? America’s defense, economy, and environment are all put at risk over a program that helps thousands of local people and costs far less than 1 percent of the overall federal budget.

Congress should be fighting to protect and improve women’s health programs, not eliminate them. Let’s invest in cures for cancer, not restrict access to cancer screenings. Our nation should be working to prevent sexual assaults, not demonizing and ending services for those who have been assaulted. If we really want to help families, let’s increase the minimum wage, ensure paycheck fairness for women, and provide paid family and medical leave so hardworking people can have more peace of mind.

Instead here we are — everyday American lives are at risk across the globe, our roads and bridges crumbling all around us, and families across the nation struggling to make ends meet. Instead of addressing these critical problems, 40 of my esteemed colleagues are coordinating with extremist groups to advance their political agenda against Planned Parenthood and women’s health care. If our economy takes a nosedive later this year after a shutdown or default, they can blame it on Colleen and Helen, but we’ll know who’s really at fault.

Thankfully, many Republicans who have privately criticized this nonsense over the past few years are now doing so publicly because they realize the damage it’s doing to our country, not to mention their party.

Planned Parenthood isn’t the issue. Extremism and dysfunction in Congress is. It’s time to get real, do our job, and focus on the truly important issues that will strengthen families and get our democracy and our neighbors working again.

Donald Norcross represents New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.