Do Red State Republicans Want More Divorces, STDs and Abortions? Their Policies Suggest "Yes"
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Republicans lost the first battle in their newly invigorated war on contraception and other health services for sexually active people, such as STD testing and treatment, when the Democrats called their bluff in the federal budget standoff. Planned Parenthood avoided the ax, but that doesn’t mean that Republicans are prepared to give up on doing everything in their power to separate women, especially low-income women, from access to contraception services. In lieu of cutting family planning subsidies on the federal level, Republicans have devised a plan to cut them on the state level, where they face fewer meddling pro-choice Democrats.
The strategy remains the same: Say the word “abortion” a lot, and use it to cut funding for contraception and other reproductive health services that aren’t abortion. Indiana kicked off the state-by-state strategy by banning Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funding, using the usual abortion excuse, though none of the funding goes to abortion. Despite knowing that anti-discrimination laws would mean that this bill would end all family planning subsidies to the state, Gov. Mitch Daniels signed it anyway. Even though Republicans pretend to be cutting family planning spending more in sorrow than in joy, they still produce results for a right wing fringe that opposes not just abortion, but contraception, STD treatment, and preventing cervical cancer, all in the service of a religious belief that these are holy punishments for fornication.
Republicans in other red states see the benefit to the strategy, which allows them to cater to the far right while pretending to be more moderate. Invoking the demonized Planned Parenthood gives cover for an endless array of punishments for women who have sex and don't have much money. Texas is using Indiana's strategy to cut off all forms of reproductive health care, as are Kansas and a growing list of other red states. An enterprising Oklahoma legislator realized the strategy could be used to shut down WIC distribution in his state, adding “watching your babies starve” to the list of punishments Republicans view as appropriate for women who have sex without having the foresight to be financially comfortable first.
If Republicans in red states succeed in using the abortion bait-and-switch to cut off all reproductive health care, expect dramatic growth in the already-alarming divide between red states and blue states in measures such as health outcomes, family stability, and education. Red states top blue states consistently in divorce rates, STD transmission rates, and teen birth rates. Red states are overrepresented in high school drop out rates. A sudden disappearance of affordable reproductive health care will dramatically worsen this situation.
Why? In some areas, the reasons are obvious. STD transmission rates depend highly both on the availability of condoms, and cutting off the supply of affordable condoms will affect that availability rate. But it’s more than just latex that prevents STD transmission. STD transmission rates also fall when people discover their STDs and receive treatment before they have sex with a new partner, and cutting off affordable testing and treatment will mean far more people will put off testing and pass infections unawares.
Subsidized family planning has an outsized impact on teenage pregnancy rates, as well. Teenagers don’t tend to have access to much money, and they often can’t -- or won’t -- go through their parents to get contraception. Planned Parenthood is a cheap and parent-proof route to safer sex for sexually active teens. The GOP's dreams that teenagers en masse will stop screwing and start teaching Sunday school are unlikely to pan out, so expect states that cut off family planning funds to see a surge in teen births.
Lack of contraception access produces far-reaching negative results as well. As Naomi Cahn and June Carbone have demonstrated, one reason red states have higher divorce rates is that they have more people marrying without foresight because of unplanned pregnancy. Fewer condoms means more unplanned pregnancies, more shotgun weddings, and eventually more divorces.
States that adopt this plan to cut off family planning may as well kiss away hopes of improvements in their educational outcomes, as well. Cuts in family planning hit educational outcomes now and in the future. Girls who give birth in high school graduate at little over half the rate of girls who don’t, so an increase in the teenage pregnancy rate means an increase in the drop-out rate. But this is about more than the mothers; more unplanned pregnancies means more strain on overcrowded schools and more kids entering the system with unstable family lives, which increase the odds of dropping out. Obama wants schools to be racing to the top, but many red states are opting to race to the bottom.
In the greatest irony of all, the higher your unplanned pregnancy rate, the higher your abortion rate. Despite all the wailing about the evils of abortion, Republicans are doing more to increase the abortion rate than you could do by putting an abortion provider charging $5 a pop on every street corner.
If that doesn’t fill your daily irony quotient, consider that Republicans deem themselves fiscal conservatives, but this war on women will end up costing their states way more than they’re currently spending on social programs. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that the government saves $4 for every dollar spent on family planning in the first year alone, because of the costs of child-bearing and infant care for low-income women. For states facing budget crises, this dramatic explosion in costs will make it that much harder to stay out of the red.
Republicans probably haven’t thought about this plan much beyond patting themselves on the back for being clever enough to give something to the anti-contraception fringe without unduly alarming moderates. Still, they should consider the effects of amplifying the differences in red and blue states. Red states already have a reputation for high poverty, teenage pregnancy, STD, and divorce rates. If they continue down this path, the contrast between red and blue states will start to resemble that of undeveloped and industrial nations.