Back in April, House Republicans tried to kill funding for a couple of the right’s favorite bête noires: Planned Parenthood and the Title X federal grant program for family planning. Stymied by Senate Democrats, conservative culture warriors have moved on to what they see as more promising battlegrounds: states with GOP governors or legislatures.
Measures to defund Planned Parenthood already have passed in North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, and Wisconsin, and are pending in several other states. The states have different strategies for cutting Planned Parenthood out of the action. Mostly, they bar state governments from contracting with the organization for family planning services using federal Medicaid and Title X dollars. Planned Parenthood notes that some states are withholding federal grants specifically earmarked for the organization.
New Hampshire’s Executive Council recently voted to reject a $1.8 million contract with Planned Parenthood. Council Member Raymond Wieczorek explained, “I am opposed to abortion. I am opposed to providing condoms to someone. If you want to have a party, have a party but don’t ask me to pay for it.”
As Weiczorek’s comment makes clear, conservatives aren’t just aiming at their usual target, abortion, but at contraceptives as well. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor boasted during his campaign of “trying to defund Planned Parenthood and make sure they didn’t have any money, not just for abortion, but any money for anything.”
The right’s jihad against Planned Parenthood and family planning is likely to cause the opposite of its intended effect. Making it harder for people to get access to contraception will result in more unintended pregnancies, some of which undoubtedly will end in abortion. And if such bans are not reversed, there’s a high risk of collateral damage to a cause Republicans presumably support: reducing the epidemic of teen and unplanned pregnancy in America.
With over 400,000 girls aged 15 to 19 giving birth each year, America’s teen pregnancy rate is among the highest of all industrialized countries. Nearly one-quarter of teen mothers go on welfare within three years of having a child, and according to the CDC, lack of access to contraceptives is a key factor contributing to high teen pregnancy rates, a problem that costs taxpayers nearly $11 billion a year.
As I wrote here, teen pregnancy also plays a large role in the nationwide dropout crisis—30 percent of girls who drop out of high school cite pregnancy or parenthood as a key reason they left school. The close connection between teen pregnancy and dropping out of school is another compelling reason not to cut funding for family planning programs.
Contraception, which Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics provide at a low cost, significantly reduces unplanned pregnancy and in turn reduces the number of abortions. Studies show that easier access to birth control pills decreases abortion rates drastically. In fact, most of the decline in teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. is due to teens’ more consistent contraceptive use.
Republicans want to punish Planned Parenthood for providing legal abortions, even though abortion accounts for only 3 percent of its services. In addition to affordable contraception that prevents teen and unplanned pregnancy and abortions, Planned Parenthood also provides other vital health services for women, like cancer screening and prevention, STD testing and treatment, and prenatal care.
According to a Guttmacher Institute study, 1.94 million unintended pregnancies are prevented each year by services provided at family planning clinics. Of these averted pregnancies, 400,000 would have occurred among teens. Defunding Planned Parenthood would deal a huge blow to crucial efforts to prevent teen pregnancy, undermining clinics’ capacity to provide sex education and teen pregnancy prevention initiatives. The same study finds that 810,000 abortions were prevented by services provided at family planning clinics. Without these services, the abortion rate in the U.S. would be two-thirds higher than the current rate.
Planned Parenthood isn’t taking this lying down. The organization has already won lawsuits defending abortion rights in Kansas and South Dakota. In Indiana, it won a legal battle when a district judge blocked enforcement of the defunding measure. The Obama Administration has made it clear to Indiana that cutting off Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood is illegal—the law says that Medicaid beneficiaries can choose any qualified healthcare provider they wish. Planned Parenthood is also suing over North Carolina’s budget provision that cuts the organization off from any federal and state funds.
Cutting the number of abortions ought to be a goal that unites progressives and conservatives. Instead of slashing funding for clinics that provide fundamental health services for young and low-income women, Republicans should put their focus on reducing the need for abortions. The GOP’s moral guardians may not like it, but this means encouraging responsibility through safe sex and contraceptive use and continuing to fund family planning programs that help prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy and abortion.
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