Recent medical research, as reported in the highly respected New England Journal of Medicine, has provided us with both good and bad news about unwanted pregnancies:
First, the good news: The rate of unintended pregnancies in the U.S. has recently diminished. Less than half (45%) of pregnancies were unintended in 2011, as compared with 51% in 2008, declining by 18% overall in women between the ages of 15 to 44 years. While this reduction is not eye-popping, it represents progress, especially when compared with a minor increase between the years 2001 and 2008.
But now the bad news: Rates of unintended pregnancies during this last period among those who are below the federal poverty level are two to three times higher than the national average noted above.
Although the study explored several possible explanations for the reduction of unintended pregnancies, they concluded the most likely was an increased use of contraceptives, especially long-acting types such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and hormonal injectable implants, both of which are relatively expensive. Although birth control is a basic and essential health care need for most women in all socioeconomic categories, those least able to afford these methods are placed at the greatest disadvantage.
Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that health insurers cover women’s preventive care services with no out-of-pocket costs. Although the ACA has brought the establishment of health insurance marketplaces nationwide and Medicaid expansions in 32 states, low-income women are disproportionately affected by limited information and access to the preferred methods. To fill this need, Planned Parenthood has constantly advocated for health care reforms and provided publicly funded programs that support expanding women’s access to all forms of birth control.
But here is where politics becomes the “fly in the ointment”. Those politicians with extreme views on reproductive health—often based upon incomplete facts and specious arguments—are trying to cut public funding for family-planning services through programs such as Medicaid and Title X, which have been critical in reducing costs and expanding access to preferred and effective contraceptives for low-income women. Medicaid sources provide a range of methods that are twice as successful in comparison with those provided by similar providers that do not receive such funds.
But can we verify the negative consequences of such public fund withdrawals? The state of Texas provides a good (or bad?) example. Beginning in January, 2013, Texas withdrew support for Planned Parenthood affiliates from a Texas Medicaid fee-for-service family planning program. After the funding exclusion, there was a 35% reduction of provision of long-acting—the most preferred—forms of contraception, and during the same period, the number of pregnancies increased by 27%. The inescapable conclusion is that the vast majority of these births were unintended.
Sadly, withdrawing funds from Planned Parenthood has occurred in many states, including Ohio (Governor Kasich can bear responsibility there). Unfortunately, Indiana is attempting similar action. Government agencies, such as local and county health departments, would be prevented from funding Planned Parenthood affiliates or abortion providers for services that include birth control as well as cancer screenings. Importantly, since the Hyde amendment was passed many years ago, Planned Parenthood has been denied the use federal funds to provide abortion services anywhere.
All these measures are obviously affecting those vulnerable women who are least able to provide support for unwanted children, or even their own health. Regardless whether one is for or against abortion—legal or otherwise—these data indicate that the numbers of these unfortunate souls seeking abortions by any means in states such as Texas are likely to increase in the future. Obviously, pregnancy, delivery, and early post-natal care are far more costly than preventive measures.
Sooner or later, the taxpayers will be penalized—directly or indirectly—and I for one subscribe to the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”!
Our lawmakers would be well advised to stop the ill-informed decision to defund Planned Parenthood!