February 24, 2009

Study Finds Benefits Of Publicly Funded Family Planning Programs

The national family planning program prevents nearly 2 million unintended pregnancies each year, therefore avoiding 860,000 unintended births, 810,000 abortions and 270,000 miscarriages, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute.

Additionally, without publicly funded family planning services, the US abortion rate would be almost two-thirds higher than it currently is, according to the report released on Tuesday.

"The national family planning program is smart government at its best," said Rachel Benson Gold, the study's lead author.

"Publicly funded family planning is basic health care that empowers disadvantaged women to decide for themselves when to become pregnant and how many children to have. It reduces recourse to abortion. And it saves significant amounts of taxpayer money."

Of the more than 9 million women who received publicly funded contraceptive services in 2006, 7.2 million got care from the national network of family planning centers, while another 2 million received Medicaid-funded family planning care from private doctors, the report noted.

"Many low-income women get their basic health care for the year during an annual visit to a family planning center," said Gold. "The package of services they receive not only includes contraceptive counseling and the provision of a contraceptive method. It also includes pelvic and breast exams, tests for HIV and other STIs, screenings for reproductive cancers, high blood pressure and diabetes, and referrals to other health providers when necessary. This is essential, preventive health care for disadvantaged women."

However, last month the issue of publicly funded contraceptive care arose as an issue among Republican critics in the House. Democrats responded by abandoning an attempt to include an expansion of family planning services for the poor in the economic stimulus bill, according to USA Today, adding that "they plan to push soon for a major funding increase for Title X, the main federal family planning program, as part of broader legislation endorsed by President Barack Obama to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies."

But some conservatives, such as Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, say Title X is "another Planned Parenthood bailout."

"The issue is whether taxpayers should fund, and thereby encourage, behavior that's risky and morally questionable," he said.

Public expenditures for family planning in 2006 totaled $1.85 billion, with 71% of those funds coming from the joint federal-state Medicaid program, according to the study.

"States as varied as Texas, New York, South Carolina and Missouri have decided to undergo the cumbersome and time-consuming process to seek federal permission, known as a waiver, to expand family planning services to more women who need them," said Gold. "It's a popular policy because it helps women while saving public dollars. It more than pays for itself."

"Our report recommends other policy changes to help the national family planning program maintain and increase its effectiveness. These include increased funding for the federal Title X program, which provides critical support to the national family planning provider infrastructure. Policymakers also need to take a more comprehensive look at how Medicaid and Title X can best complement and strengthen each other."


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