Supporting family planning saves the government and low-income women money. The GOP should be challenged when it threatens to take that support away.
People tend to want to split debates along the line between economic issues and social ones. But that line isn’t always so easy to demarcate. Case in point: Contraception was a big item on the agenda at the first of two GOP debates this weekend, but many commentators were impatient for questions about the economy. Yet questions about women’s access to contraception have everything to do with the economy, and not just for the women who use it.
Investing in contraception access makes sense for the economy at large, particularly in an age of austerity. Globally, every dollar spent on contraceptive services saves $1.40 in maternal and newborn health care costs by helping prevent unintended pregnancies. More specifically, every dollar invested in contraceptive access saves $4.02 in Medicaid expenditures that would have gone to pregnancy-related care. But there’s still room to save more — half of all pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unintended, and those who consistently and correctly use contraception make up only 5 percent of unintended pregnancies, leaving the rest to many who can’t get what they need.
Access to contraception is also a class issue, and the class divide in unwanted pregnancies is growing. When Republicans threaten to defund Planned Parenthood or Title X funding, which subsidizes family planning services, they threaten to make it more difficult — or impossible — for low-income women to get the contraception they need. It’s a dire need that affects almost all women: virtually all those aged 15-44 who have ever had sex have used at least one method. The typical woman has to use contraceptives for about 30 years to achieve the number of children she wishes to have. And 43 million women — seven in 10 — are sexually active but don’t want to get pregnant. Hard to do without contraception.