Friday, April 17, 2009

Protect Family Planning Funding


By Alison Mondi

In a time of economic uncertainty, unnerving budget deficits, and ever-worsening employment and revenue figures, it is understandable that the legislators and agency heads charged with setting the state’s budget for the next two years are inclined to reach for the hatchet.

And yes, there are going to have to be cuts, and many of those cuts will have very real repercussions for those most in need. But dwindling state revenues, coupled with more people than ever in need of assistance, demands precise and thoughtful budget trimming.

That is why the state Senate and House budget proposals are so alarming. Among the slew of heartbreaking cuts, the Senate budget calls for a $1 million reduction in state spending on funding for birth control and other family planning services for low-income and at-risk women, which is 10 percent of the total program. The House budget is even worse; it proposes a 10 percent cut for the first year of the two-year budget, and then calls for the complete elimination of family planning funding in the second year. That means ending reproductive health care services for over 20,000 Washington women, and putting up to an additional $19 million in pregnancy care costs on the state’s tab. This drastic cut is a gamble with women’s health – and the state’s bottom line – that we simply cannot afford.

In terms of benefits to recipients, tax payers, and the financial health of the state, few social programs compare to public funding for birth control and other family planning services for low-income women. It’s a rare win-win-win in the realm of public policy and state spending. That is why it is critical that we preserve funding for family planning, even now, during one of the state’s (and nation’s) darker economic hours.

Women themselves benefit from the most immediate “win.” With continued funding, low-income women can access birth control and other health care services, thereby providing them with the ability to plan if and when they get pregnant. When women are in control of their fertility, they are more likely to complete their education, and find and retain employment, making women and their children healthier.

When more women, no matter what their income level, have access to birth control, the rate of unintended pregnancies goes down. This leads directly to the next two wins:

Public funding for family planning care is a smart investment. According to a 2008 study by the Guttmacher Institute, for every $1 spent on public funding for reproductive health care, the state saves over $4 in prevented future costs. According to the state’s Department of Health statistics, it costs approximately $550 a year to cover a full range of family planning services for each Washingtonian in need, compared to almost $8,000 in state funds for each Medicaid paid birth. When the state spends a relatively small amount for family planning services, it saves big bucks down the road.

Finally, birth control (i.e. family planning) lifts poor women out of poverty and helps keep women from becoming poor. Not only is this directly beneficial to the women in question, it is also to the benefit of society as whole. A reduction in poverty means less of a strain on public resources and a happier and more productive community. If one of the goals of the budget process is to establish longer-term financial stability for the state – and one would hope that is the case – then it is easy to see that family planning funding should be off the chopping block.

Economic realities mean that many tough decisions await the legislature. To be sure, it is an unenviable task. In the case of funding for birth control and other family planning services for the state’s low-income and marginalized women, the decision is refreshingly easy. For the sake of Washington’s women and for the state’s financial health, the state must allocate full, ongoing funding for reproductive health care.
Mondi is the communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Washington Forum. 4/09