Archive for January, 2009

Family Planning Reduces Abortions AND Helps the Economy

January 31, 2009

There was quite an uproar with the short-lived inclusion of a family planning initiative in the proposed national economic stimulus package. Conservatives scratched their heads at how contraception had anything to do with economy. On Hardball last Monday Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey, equating family planning services to contraception alone, quipped “Now, indeed, that may stimulate something, but I don‘t think it‘s going to stimulate the economy!” Sex, sex, its encouraging more SEX!

Rush Limbaugh drew the erroneous conclusion that the initiative (and family planning itself) is akin to “abortion all over the world”, its economic aim was to reduce the country’s birth rate and that a better method to do so would be to “… put pictures of Pelosi in every cheap motel room in America today, that will keep birth rates down because that picture will keep a lot of things down.”

Normally quoting Limbaugh serves little purpose, and I’m going to ignore a large part of why this comment is offensive, but I wanted to mention it because it demonstrates a conservative belief about the purpose of family planning clinics. “In every cheap motel room in America…” Seedy, sordid, illicit sex. The kind in sleezy motels across the land. Irresponsible, immoral behavior. That’s what contraception is for. That’s what clinics serve. If you want to engage in THAT kind of behavior, and dodge its logical consequences, why should the government help you out?

This kind of thinking, whether vocalized or not, is pervasive, damaging, and just plain inaccurate. It belies a person who knows very little about what clinics such as Planned Parenthood are all about, and a willful ignorance of what was in the stimulus package regarding family planning.

First, let’s look at what the nation’s largest family planning organization actually does on a daily basis. In 2007  a breakdown of Planned Parenthood services looked like this:

  • 36% Contraception
  • 31% STD testing and treatment
  • 17% Cancer screening and prevention
  • 11% Pregnancy tests, pre-natal care, menopause, and infertility.
  • 3% Abortion (*No federal money can be used for this – see below)
  • 2% Primary care and adoption referral

If you’re a low-income man, woman, or couple with no health insurance, who do you go to? Where do you go?

Now let’s look at what the inclusion of this legislation actually would have accomplished. Currently low-income women of child-bearing age cannot access Medicaid until they become pregnant. If a woman wants federal help for family planning before this time, she has to petition for a waiver, providing her state allows for this. 27 states offer a waiver, which can take as long as two years to acquire. Obama proposed eliminating the federal waiver thereby allowing states to directly access Medicaid funds for family planning services if they so choose. States that never offered the waiver remain completely unchanged.

This money would fund mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, medically relevant sex education, contraception, STD testing and treatment, pre-natal care, and infertility treatment –  but not a penny would go toward abortion! *Remember the Hyde Amendment? Since 1976 no federal dollars may be spent to fund abortion. In fact, Medicare and Medicaid explicitly state that under no circumstance may abortion “be claimed as a family-planning service.”

Family planning. Essentially ensuring low-income women’s gynecological health and empowering them with the means to control when they become pregnant. How can a multitude of  pregnant teens, women who drop out of college for a menial job to raise an unexpected child, and couples who can’t afford more children nevertheless finding themselves pregnant again NOT be a drain on the economy? AIDS or other STD’s being contracted, untreated, and exponentially spread. Women who seek emergency room help for cancer only after it had advanced to the point that her physical symptoms impair her daily life. Low-income, mostly uninsured women. Again, NOT a drain on the economy? On the health care system? This isn’t complicated, it’s common sense!

Even if we were dealing solely with contraception – is that so wrong? Deciding where and when to have a child is a basic fundamental right. Again, we’re not even talking about abortion. We’re talking about PLANNING! The most responsible thing a person can do. Why is there such a backlash?

Is it sex, again? Are we back to sex? Pro-creation only sex? Because as great as it sounds I don’t see a whole lot of neo-cons with 15 kids. Even outspoken Huckabee only has three. I suppose he abstains.

The fact is that people have sex. Teenagers do it, college kids, singles, couples, married people. How can being healthy along the way and in control of your life be a negative thing?

Dr. Pete Klasky has a great piece on Huffington where he points to evidence that family planning significantly reduces the number of abortions and saves the government money.

To understand how this works, it is helpful to look at California’s experience with a state-funded contraception and family planning initiative for women with incomes between 100% and 200% of the poverty level:

Four years after implementing the program, California saved an estimated $500 million in public health care spending, net of what they spent on the program itself. In fact, for every dollar invested in the program, the state of California saved an estimated $5.33, over a period of five years. These are conservative estimates that do not include money saved through increased productivity and cost savings from reductions in paid medical leave and sick days that result from unplanned pregnancies. Few other public spending plans can boast such a positive return on investment. [Em mine]

He also points out that sex education and access to contraception do NOT lead to an increased amount of pre-marital sex. Another myth opponents assert time and again.

In 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services (under Republican Secretary Tommy Thompson), released a report documenting an increase in contraceptive use with a decrease in sexual activity between 1995 and 2002. Supplying contraceptives and educating adolescents about sex during the late 1990s did not increase their likelihood to engage in sexual activities; it did keep them from getting pregnant. Even supplying emergency contraception to adolescents, prior to sexual activity, has been proven not to affect sexual behaviors.

Of course, we all know that abstinence-onlyeducation” has the exact opposite effect (doesn’t delay onset or frequency of sexual activity, but rather increases the likelihood of unprotected sex because it purports – among other things – that condoms are ultimately ineffective), and yet the Bush Administration spent more than $1.75 billion on it – not in an effort to boost the economy, but an attempt to spread good Christian virtue to those who would otherwise find themselves sullied and impure.

So what is the reasoning behind indignantly rejecting an initiative that would reduce the number of abortions and save the government money? What is it? Politics? Ignorance? The misplaced notion of seedy hotel room sex?

I do understand the argument that the economic stimulus package simply wasn’t the appropriate vehicle for this initiative and, in fact, its inclusion simply lofted a softball for opposition to self-righteously whack over the fence – that it was a tactical error on Obama’s part. Its ability to instantly appall conservatives and consequent swift removal from the package bears this out.

But family planning will be back. How will the debate go when we don’t have to show that that it’s good for the economy, but simply that it’s good for the country? The very fact that we’re beginning to have these conversations on a national level is a start and I am hopeful that over the next few years we will see signifiant changes in both policity and cultural attitudes about women’s health and reproductive freedom – that dicussion of sexual issues won’t revolve around fear and shame, but will instead focus on  self and mutual respect, healthy relationships, education, safety, emotional and physical health, autonomous control, and responsibility. Am I too optimistic?