The optimist in me thinks that members of Congress are beginning to see the recent attempts to defund birth control for what they are: attacks on the American family.
First, of course, they have to shake free of the bar-fight mentality embodied by Mike Pence. Thankfully, a few seem to already have done it, stepping out of the melee long enough to consider what exactly anti–birth control bills would be savaging.
In the House, which voted to defund Title X federal family planning funding and Planned Parenthood as well as $110 million in teen pregnancy prevention programs, seven Republicans—including Representatives Judy Biggert of Illinois and Mary Bono-Mack of California—already defected from the marauding mass back in February, as did a handful of Democrats who generally oppose abortion rights.
Indeed, Democratic representatives Mike Doyle, Tim Ryan, and Jim Langevin went so far as to write a letter to Speaker Boehner “on behalf of millions of pro-life Americans” in support of Title X, noting that the program “helped women avoid 973,000 unplanned pregnancies in 2008 alone.”
While I don’t agree with these guys on abortion, the Somewhat Thoughtful Three apparently understand that about half of these and all unwanted pregnancies will likely end in abortion. So, for seemingly acting on principle (something I can’t say about most of the rest of these folks piling on contraception), I salute them.
Then Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine spoke up in support of Title X, giving me a fresh stab of hope that people in the Senate might be even a little saner still. And last week, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski went further and publicly supported not just federal family planning funds but Planned Parenthood in particular. Antichoice Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania also said he’d vote against cuts to the organization. All have noted that family planning reduces healthcare costs.
They’re right, of course. Every dollar spent from Title X saves $3.74 in Medicaid costs for pregnant women and babies during their first year, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And, with teen pregnancy and child-bearing costing the country at least 9 billion a year nationwide, cutting programs proven to decrease them seems pretty pound-foolish.
But if federal funding for family planning is going to survive, success will ride on explaining that contraception isn’t just the best tool to prevent abortion or save costs, it’s also one of past century’s top ten achievements in public health, according to the government’s own Centers for Disease Control, right up there along with clean water and immunizations.
The CDC notes that the introduction of family planning at the dawn of the twentieth century heralded a new age with fewer children and lower infant mortality. “Smaller families and longer birth intervals have contributed to the better health of infants, children, and women, and have improved the social and economic role of women.”
Family planning has made the American family—the one we’re all supposed to value—what it is today. Birth control is also something many of these legislators’ parents used so the children they did have could be fed, educated and ultimately do well enough to land up in Congress.
Now, I’m hoping, those legislators will bravely step back away from the ludicrous bar fight over birth control and decide not to turn the clock back on American families.