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Why The GOP's Plans To Cut Family Planning Will Cost Us All

A new study shows how dramatically costly an increase in unintended pregnancies is on the taxpayer. And yet the GOP cuts family planning in the name of "fiscal responsibility"

Just as many states accelerate efforts to defund family planning clinics, here comes news that nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended.

As one might expect, unplanned pregnancies have a higher likelihood of requiring maternity and infant care via public programs like Medicaid, vital programs which by their nature are paid for by taxpayers. That's why for decades, funding for family planning was considered common sense by conservatives as well as liberals--by funding birth control, you guaranteed that more families were planned and budgeted for. This logical commitment to family planning remained common sense (and common ground) until the religious right started a campaign against the so-called immorality of such programs, and co-opted the GOP's platform in the process. Since then, this extremist social agenda has led many to deliberately ignore the fact that slashing of public family planning services is actually fiscally irresponsible, putting a heavy burden on the very taxpayers Republicans claim to be so concerned about.  New data shows the absolute irrationality behind the defunding of Planned Parenthood under the banner of "fiscal restraint." 

The extent of the costs of unplanned pregnancies has never before been fully estimated until the Guttmacher Institute and the Brookings Institution released a series of reports last week—and the numbers they came up with are truly startling. Nationally, 64% of the 1.6 million births resulting from unintended pregnancies in 2006 (the most recent year data are available) were paid for by public programs, compared to 35% of births resulting from intended pregnancies. The clear deduction here: planned parenthood, with small ps, costs the state less. Of the $11.1 billion in government expenses for unintended pregnancy, $4.6 billion came from the states. 

Betty Cockrum, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana—which is the first network to be defunded by state law—told AlterNet that these costs are, in fact, even higher than they appear in the report.

“Uncounted are costs from increased likelihood of preterm birth, low birth weight, and other negative prenatal outcomes; children’s medical care beyond their first year; pregnancy-related care paid for by other government-related programs including indigent care programs that subsidize hospitals’ uncompensated care; and other government benefits, such as food stamps and welfare payments,” she said.

Indeed, the research team also emphasizes that $11 billion is a conservative estimate. They point to literature on teen pregnancy, for example, that accounts not only for medical expenses, but the fact that teen parents are more likely to drop out of school and claim public assistance from a young age.

But the numbers still stand in stark juxtaposition with state battles over funding for family planning services, particularly over Planned Parenthood.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels recently slashed all funds to 28 health centers throughout the state. Others swiftly followed his example. Legislators in Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin all moved forward last week on budgets or bills that would strip funding from Planned Parenthood, or any organization that provides abortions or abortion referrals (even though it is already illegal to use any public funds to pay for abortions). Hospitals are typically exempted from these proposals. In related action, Oklahoma House members moved to deny Planned Parenthood from participating in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which allows the clinics to provide nutrition vouchers for low-income families.  

Pair this pattern with the fact that in nine states, the rate of unintended pregnancy is trending steadily upward, while in no state is there a consistent decline. Mississippi has the highest rate of unintended pregnancy, with California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Nevada falling closely behind. New Hampshire had the lowest rate, followed by Maine, North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia. Where rates of unplanned pregnancy are falling? Among high-income women.