If the proposed cuts to birth control get carried out, they could dramatically increase the birth rate.
As the Guttmacher Institute points out, publicly funded family planning services now "prevent almost two million unintended pregnancies each year, which would otherwise result in 860,000 unintended pregnancies and 810,000 abortions. Without these services, the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions among poor women in the United States would nearly double, and the number of unintended pregnancies in the nation as a whole would be nearly two-thirds higher."
But, as anyone who’s watched the Nature Channel can tell you, pregnancy is only the beginning of the story.
So what will happen to the thousands of new people who would result from the absence of publicly-funded family planning services if the House gets its way?
Let’s start at the beginning. First, whether in-utero or out-, those little critters are going to need food. All that growing requires lots of eating. Nurturing them does too, of course.
Unfortunately, the House would cut $747 million from the WIC program, which provides food and other supports to 9.6 million low-income pregnant women, new mothers and infants each month.
Then they’re going to need healthcare. That first year is a perilous one. Our infant mortality rate, which includes deaths until a baby is one year-old, is already high, with forty-five countries, including Slovenia and Cuba, doing better than we do.
Sadly, the House would also cut $50 million from Maternal & Child Health Block Grant, which pays for prenatal care for millions of women and for preventive and primary care for the kids to 31 million children each year.
Even with the numbers pared down by increased infant deaths, there will still be plenty of children left who need someone to take care of them. Remember, of the women affected by the absence of federal family planning funds, most are low-income. And we don’t allow the vast majority of women to stay home and take care of their kids while receiving public assistance anymore. (No one likes a welfare queen.) So we’ll make sure they can get some sort of childcare while their mothers are working, right?
Well, actually, no. We’d be cutting that, too. According to the House plan, the Child Care Development Block Grant would be slashed by $39 million, causing 368,000 children to lose early learning support. There are already huge waiting lists for childcare assistance, with only about one in seven who could benefit from the program receiving help.
At least there’d be Head Start, though. That’s the program that provides low-income kids with good, free early education so they don’t fall through the cracks.
Oh, right. We’d be cutting more than a billion dollars from that cash-strapped program, too.
So, to review: the Republicans’ plan would ensure that many more children are born and then that those same kids won’t get basic supports they need to lead decent lives—food, a safe place to be while their parents work, education and healthcare.
What happens then?
Here it might be useful to look at a state like Mississippi, where, because subsidized family planning services are scant and abortion restrictions plentiful, many women lack the ability to control their fertility. Mississippi is also a state that provides rock-bottom levels of social support to mothers and children, including child-care assistance, Head Start and child health insurance. (I go into the state’s predicament in depth in my recent book.)
The rationale behind the Mississippi’s approach might be summed up by the state’s Department of Human Services official mission statement, which encourages “traditional family values” that promote “self-sufficiency and personal responsibility among all Mississippians.”
Yet, if the state was hoping its cuts will deter people from having sex, it hasn’t succeeded. Mississippi has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation, as well as high rates of single motherhood and birth overall. But perhaps the most logical outgrowth of its lack of social supports can be seen in other numbers. Mississippi has the highest rate of poverty among women in the nation, the highest rate of poverty among children in the nation, and the second-highest incarceration rate.
Is the entire country about to take up the Mississippi model?
The political push certainly seems to be coming from a similarly prudish place. While the Republicans have spent much of their time defending their budget request with dollars and sense, the real political fire under this effort has come from associating family planning with abortion and, judging from Lila Rose’s recent efforts, from linking Planned Parenthood with sex workers, pimps and immorality in general.
But if Mississippi is any indication—and I think it is—denying women the ability to limit the number of children they have and then withholding support once they have those children won’t stop anyone from having sex. It will, though, almost certainly create and deepen poverty.