Opinion: Republican assault on Planned Parenthood is economically stupid

The continued attack against Planned Parenthood is economically and morally wrong.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., right, walks to a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, to block Planned Parenthood's federal funds for a year.

The Republican assault on Planned Parenthood is filled with lies and distortions, and may even lead to a government shutdown.

The only thing we can say for sure about it is it’s already harming women’s health.

For distortions, start with presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s contention at last week’s Republican debate that a video shows  “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’“

Wrong. In fact, the anti-abortion group that made that shock video added stock footage of a fully-formed fetus in order to make it seem as if that’s what Planned Parenthood intended.

But as Donald Trump has demonstrated with cunning bravado, presidential candidates can say anything these days regardless of the truth and get away with it.

At least elected members of Congress should be held to a standard of responsible public service. 

Yet last Friday, the House voted 241-187 to block Planned Parenthood’s federal funds for a year.

This may lead to another government shutdown. Funding for the government runs out at the end of the month, and several dozen House Republicans have said they won’t vote for a funding bill that includes money for Planned Parenthood.

This is, quite frankly, nuts.

A strong moral case can be made that any society that respects women must respect their right to control their own bodies. 

There’s also an important economic case for effective family planning.

Public investments in family planning—enabling women to plan, delay, or avoid pregnancy– make economic sense because reproductive rights are also productive rights.

When women have control over their lives they can contribute even more to the economy, better break the glass ceiling, equalize the pay gap, and much more.

Consider Colorado’s highly successful family planning program. Over the past six years, the Colorado health department has offered teenagers and low-income women free long-acting birth control that prevents pregnancy over several years.

As a result, pregnancy and abortion rates plunged—by about 40 percent among teenagers across the state between 2009 to 2013.

In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of Colorado occurred before they turned 21.

But by 2014, half of first births did not occur until the women had turned 24. This difference gives young women time to finish their education and obtain better jobs.

Nationally, evidence shows that public investments in family planning result in net public savings of about $13.6 billion a year—over $7 for every public dollar spent.

This sum doesn’t include the billions of additional dollars saved by enabling women – who may not be financially able to raise a child and do not want to have a child or additional children – to stay out of poverty.

Despite what Republicans claim, Planned Parenthood doesn’t focus on providing abortions.

In 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, its services included nearly nearly 500,000 breast examinations, 400,000 Pap tests, nearly 4.5 million tests for sexually transmitted illnesses and treatments.

Planned Parenthood’s contraceptive services are one of the major reasons we don’t have more abortions in the United States.

The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine calls Planned Parenthood’s contraception services one of “the single greatest effort[s] to prevent the unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions.”

Planned Parenthood’s services are particularly important to poor and lower-income women. At least 78 percent of its patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

Planned Parenthood gets around $450 million a year from the federal government. Most of this is Medicaid reimbursements for low-income patients, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The rest is mainly for contraceptive counseling, pregnancy testing and other services.

Federal money can only be used for abortion in rare circumstances.

Even so, over the last five years congressional Republicans have cut 10 percent of the Title X federal budget for family planning, which pays for services such as cancer screenings and HIV tests.

And now they want to do away with it altogether.

This never used to be a partisan issue. After all, Title X was signed into law in 1970 by Richard Nixon.

Obviously, the crass economic numbers don’t nearly express the full complexity of the national debate around abortion and family planning.

But they help make the case that we all benefit when society respects women to control their bodies and plan their families.

The attack on Planned Parenthood is not just morally wrong. It’s also economically stupid.  

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