Let the Taxpayers Beware!
Susan E. Wills
July 24, 2009
It should be called the Planned Parenthood Economic Stimulus Package of 2009.
Instead, co-sponsors Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have given their “new” (though largely recycled) bill
the promising title “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the
Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act.” Sponsors describe the
bill as a “common ground” approach to reducing unintended pregnancies
and abortions, one that should appeal to opposing sides in the abortion
Sure, the bill is dressed up with some funding
for after-school programs, and some (very poorly crafted) efforts to
provide support for pregnant students. But make no mistake. The bill is
“about access to birth control,” according to Congressman Ryan (MSNBC’s “Hardball,” May 19, 2009). In the same interview, Ryan explained: “We
have to have birth control and contraception offered to these poor
women who don’t have access to contraception, period, dot. There’s no
other way we’re going to be able to reduce [abortions].” About what
you’d expect in a bill whose co-sponsors enjoy a 100% pro-choice rating
Accordingly, their bill calls for grants for
comprehensive sexuality education (abstinence-only educators need not
apply!). It substantially increases funding for the federal Title X Family Planning Program. It denies state choice, making family planning
services a mandatory Medicaid entitlement in all states, and greatly
expands family planning eligibility under Medicaid to all women who are
eligible under state law for prenatal, labor, and delivery care.
Some people might find this approach sensible.
But they ignore at least two things. First, since at least 1980,
taxpayers have been funding “family planning services” to the tune of over $1 billion per year. In 2006 such public expenditures totaled $1.85 billion. So today, virtually all teenagers who are sexually active and do not
want to become pregnant are already using contraception. Only 7% are not using it, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Second, contraceptives don’t work very well in
real life. In the first 12 months of contraceptive use, 16.4% of teens
(1 in 6) will become pregnant. Among low-income cohabiting teens, the failure (pregnancy) rate over 12 months is 48.4% for birth control pills
and 71.7% for condoms.
Numerous studies in the United States and Europe
have found that greater access to contraception fails to reduce
unintended pregnancies and abortions. A recent $10 million intervention
in England giving at-risk teens comprehensive sex education and
contraception is a perfect example. Teens in the program had a
pregnancy rate 2.5 times higher than a similar group of at-risk teens (16 vs. 6 percent).
Why does increased access to contraception fail
at the population level? Thinking they are protected from pregnancy and
disease, more young people become sexually active and have more partners, offsetting any reduction in pregnancy from individual
contraceptive use. And the increased level of sexual activity causes
STD rates to soar. In the U.S., 1 in 4 teen girls has at least one
STD; many of these are incurable and some are fatal.
The sharpest decline in unintended pregnancies and
abortions since 1990 has occurred among those under 18, due not to
comprehensive sex ed or contraception, but chiefly to the growing
number of young people choosing to remain abstinent. Visit the Secretariat’s website for contraception facts and citations at www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/contraception/index.shtml, and let your member of Congress know that the Ryan/DeLauro bill cannot
fulfill the promises in its title. The real abortion-reduction bill in
Congress now is the Pregnant Women Support Act (S.1032, H.R.2035),
which needs our support.
Susan Wills is Assistant Director for Education and
Outreach in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops’ pro-life activities,